Often times, after people make a will, it is stashed away after signing. Is just making a will and signing it enough when it comes to division of assets and estates? Simply put, no. Like a house that constantly needs to be upgraded or renovated every time a child is born, or simply because of a change in one’s personal preferences, a will also needs to be reviewed and updated frequently to reflect the changes in circumstances of your life, or a shift in your preferences.
How often should I get my will reviewed?
Wills should be reviewed after any major life change that could have any impact on how you wish to distribute your estate. Even if no life-changing event has occurred, it is recommended that a will should still be checked once every three to five years to ensure that it is still in accordance with what you want. When reviewing your will and deciding whether or not you should update it, you should ask yourself one simple question: Does my will still accurately reflect my wishes? If your answer is no, perhaps it is time to consider how you could alter your will.
When should I update my will?
It is vital that your will is up-to-date and parallels any significant developments in your personal life. This is necessary because constantly reviewing and updating the your will ensure that your assets are properly distribute to your loved ones according to your wishes after you pass on. This will also prevent unnecessary conflict between your loved ones that may arise due to uncertainty in your will.
Here is a simple checklist to help you determine if you should update your will:
#1 Changes in your personal circumstances or family size
Changes in your personal circumstances come in many forms. This includes the birth of a child or grandchild, marriage, divorce, death, or even a situation where you or someone mentioned in your will changes his name.
A birth of a child or grandchild is a significant event, and if you wish to include them in your will, it would need to be updated. Moreover, when a child is still underage, you may want to name the child’s guardians in the will to ensure that your child will still be well taken care of in the event something happens to you and your spouse. In contrast, when your child is of a legal age, you may also wish to alter certain bequests, or even make your child the executor instead.
Marriage and divorce are also life-changing circumstances that should be accounted for in your will. In Singapore, once you get married, your will is immediately revoked (section 13 of the Wills Act (Cap 352, Rev Ed 1996). You may choose to sign a mutual will with your spouse. This serves to safeguard the interest of your immediate family members ie. Your spouse and children. On the other hand, in the event of a divorce, your will would not be revoked (section 15 of the Wills Act (Cap 352, Rev Ed 1996). If your spouse is a beneficiary named in your will, he/she will still have legal claim to inherit your estate, and can enforce such rights in court without difficulty. Hence, if you are going through marriage or divorce, it is advisable that you update your will to reflect these changes in your life.
Death and incapacity are part and parcel of life, and certainly cannot be overlooked. In the event that a beneficiary of your will passes on, it is crucial for you to consider what should then be done about the gift left to the deceased beneficiary. It is absolutely necessary that the executor of the will is willing and able to distribute your assets and administer your estate. If the executor of your will passes on or loses the capacity to make decisions, it is necessary that you alter your will and name someone else as an executor instead. Without a capable executor, disastrous results may arise.
Sometimes, the change that occurs is not one due to physical circumstances, and is instead a change in personal preference. Have you grown apart from one of your children and would like to leave him less? Did you grow closer to a new friend, and would like to give him something to express your gratitude? In addition, maybe become more involved in a charitable organisation, and would like to donate your assets to them instead. Any change in your personal relationship with others, or even an organization, can also be deemed an important life event, and should also be considered when reviewing your will.
#2 Changes in assets
If your estate has experienced a significant increase or decrease in value, it is of utmost importance that you review your will. Assets are continuously changing, and this must be reflected in your will. Perhaps you started a new business, or you recently sold a house that you had previously stayed in, or you inherited a significant sum of money. All these changes are considered significant life events that play a big role in altering the value of your estate and personal assets, and hence, should be reflected in your will. After all, a property unaccounted for in your will would only cause undue worry for your loved ones who may not know what you would have wanted.
#3 Changes in the law
With laws changing all the time, it is essential to check periodically that your will is still in accordance with the law, and that the will is still legally valid. For instance, changes in estate and tax laws may impact your estate planning. As such, it is prudent to stay informed regarding changes in any relevant are of law, or to consult a lawyer if doubt arises. This will ensure that your will remains valid in the eyes of the law.
#4 Changes in residence
If you have moved out of the country where you executed your will, you should consult a lawyer in the country you have moved to, on whether your will still be legally valid. Different jurisdictions have different estate and tax laws, and may also have different requirements regarding the making and execution of the will. Thus, it is important to check the validity of your existing will.
In addition, in order to ensure that any assets that you may come to possess in your new home country is accounted for according to your wishes, it may not be sufficient to just make amendments to your current will. Instead, it will be best that you make a new will in accordance with the laws of that jurisdiction. This serves to minimize the risk of a local court not be able to recognize the validity of the will.
How do I update my will?
You can approach your local wills and estate planning lawyer to have your will reviewed and updated.
There are two methods to update your will. Firstly, you opt for a codicil to make changes to your will. A codicil is an additional document that is attached to your original will, stating the changes to your will. One of the main risks of this method is that the codicil may not be kept together with your original will, which can lead to many problems in the future.
Secondly, a brand new will can be made, that will replace the original will. You must destroy all copies of your old will and also inform the executor of the will that a new will has been created. In addition, you should inform your family members where your will is kept, so they know where to find it later on.
Furthermore, it is advisable to register your will at the Wills Registry. The Wills Registry, maintained by the Public Trustee, is a confidential registry that allows testators or lawyers to deposit information on wills. This will provide a means for loved ones to ascertain the location of your Will when you pass on. If you wish to amend any information in the record, you will have to make a new submission of information on the will.
Making a brand new will, instead of a codicil, is the recommended method to make amendments to your will as this method is safer and provides more clarity.
Wills are one of the most important legal documents since they serve to protect our assets after we pass on. As we go about our daily lives, we encounter changes all the time, be it in our personal relationships, our assets, which country we reside in, and the law of the state. To ensure that our intentions are carried out when we pass on, it is necessary to constantly update our wills, so as to best reflect any changes in circumstances.
Have a question on Wills?
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.