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10 September 2019

Would your will pass its MOT?

It’s easy to think ‘job done’ when a will is signed. But wills require regular review to reflect changed circumstances.

Readers who don’t own a vehicle in the UK may not know about the ‘MOT test’: almost all vehicles over three years old must pass an annual MOT test of vehicle safety and roadworthiness. Advice is always to get the MOT before the old one runs out.

The same principle applies to your will. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. A will reflects your review, at a specific point in time, of the financial security provision you want for your family, and the scope for reducing unnecessary tax liabilities. In a changing world it cannot remain untouched forever. This all seems very simple and should not cause sleepless nights.

What might keep you awake at night, however, are the ceaseless articles in the national press telling us that the number of wills being contested in the High Court is growing by a percentage that varies but is always significant, and that this ‘surge’ reflects increasingly complex family relationships.

To ensure that your final wishes are respected, the first step involves your giving your will a regular ‘MOT’, notably taking time to discuss it with us in the light of your current financial and family circumstances. This might be every three, five or seven years. Specific points to consider include:

  • your executors – are they still the right people? Are they still able and willing to act?
  • guardians for minor children – similar questions apply;
  • legacies – are any gifts to your children, grandchildren, godchildren, friends or charities up-to-date?
  • property – what will happen if it is sold prior to death?
  • funeral wishes – make any wishes known, but probably in a side letter rather than in the will itself; and
  • chattels – sharing personal possessions after a death often causes more upset than dividing up items that are purely financial, and clarity can help to avoid this difficulty. Think, too, about any ‘digital assets’ you may own. The online bank account may be the most common, but there are multitudes of others. If there is no off-line record, these may be overlooked.

There are constant changes in legislation affecting the world of wills, particularly in the tax sphere. Some may allow more flexibility with tax planning and others may impact arrangements set up many years ago under trusts, necessitating the recalculation of provision you have made.

Obviously, as with a car, if something significant changes, you should not wait until the next regular review date for your will, but get it checked out straight away.

And if you haven’t made a will, only ‘now’ is soon enough.

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