Friday, 15th March 2024

When should I review my will?

According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of inheritance challenges is rising. Legal rows over inheritances have risen 34% in five years, with court cases involving contested wills increasing by 140% over the past decade.

Cohabiting couples, second marriages, and blended families can make inheritance tricky. But, with a properly drafted will, most disputes can be avoided, or at least easily resolved. Nevertheless, life can change quickly, and factors such as shifting relationships, families, and finances could mean that your carefully drafted will no longer reflects your situation and wishes.

Estate planning is not a one-time task. You should review your will at least every five years or, after a significant change in your personal or financial circumstances, such as those outlined here.

On marriage

Most people do not know that getting married (or entering into a civil partnership) automatically invalidates a will. Unless your will makes specific reference to your intended marriage, it will be revoked after your marriage or civil partnership, and intestacy rules will apply. This means that:

  • If you are married and your estate is worth up to £322,000, your spouse will inherit everything, even if you have children;
  • If you are married with children (not including stepchildren), and your estate is worth more than £322,000, your spouse will inherit the first £322,000 plus personal belongings. Anything remaining will be split 50/50 between your spouse and your children*. Your children will all inherit an equal share of the remaining 50%.

*Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will inherit in their place if any of your children die before you.

On divorce

Divorce does not automatically revoke your will. If you end a marriage or civil partnership, your will treats your spouse as if they have died. This means that anything you have left to them will no longer take effect.

Of course, the divorce process can take a long time. It is therefore often a sensible precaution to review your will at the earliest stage, to mitigate the risk of your spouse inheriting should you die before the divorce is finalised.

When cohabiting with a partner

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as ‘common law’ marriage. If you establish a household with your partner, you should consider what ought to happen if one of you were to die. Should financial provision be made for each other? Should a partner have rights over your share of any property?

A cohabiting partner will have no rights or inheritance under English succession law.  Naturally, if you have provided for a cohabiting partner, you should review your will if that relationship ends.

When welcoming new children to the family

You should review your will once you have children, to consider when they might inherit, who should manage funds for them during their youth, and who should act as their guardian(s) if you die whilst they are young.

You should also consider updating your will if a new partner has their own children. You will, between you, need to consider the possibly competing interests of all family members.

If you become a grandparent

It is common for grandparents to add their grandchildren to their wills so they inherit directly. As such, the birth of grandchildren may require a will review.

On a change of financial circumstances

Significant changes in the value and makeup of your estate may impact the planning your current will implements. There can also be tax consequences to factor in. You should consider updating your will if:

  • You purchase/ sell property, or your property changes in value significantly;
  • You inherit or are gifted assets;
  • Your business interests change in value, or your business changes in nature.

If your health or personal circumstances change (or that of a loved one)

Deteriorating health is often a distressing event, and reviewing your will may not be the priority it should be.  If you or a dependant needs care, you may want to use your will to help you do this and protect your estate from care fees.

You will also want to update your will if the executors you have named are in poor health, so that new people are appointed to administer your estate.

Should a beneficiary die

If a beneficiary should die, you should review your will to ensure that the assets you planned to leave them are redistributed according to your wishes. The death of potential beneficiaries will often have been provided for in a solicitor-drafted will, but it is always sensible to check.

Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the impact life changes can have on the distribution of their estate. According to recent research, only 56% of people have updated their will within the last five years, meaning around half of UK wills are out of date.

At Underwoods, we help ensure your loved ones are taken care of when you pass on. In addition to drafting, reviewing, and amending your last will and testament, we can also advise you on several other key areas of law that may impact your estate planning. For further advice, please contact James McLean, Alex Shah or Shirin Wright in our private client team.


This article is for general purpose and guidance only and does not constitute legal advice. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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