With the end of the year quickly approaching, people often begin to take stock on the year that just passed. While reflecting on the changes you may have experienced in business, family or otherwise it is a great time to reassess your estate plan and see if it may need a refresh.
Why Do I Need to Update my Will?
Wills are living documents that need to evolve in order to reflect the testator’s life circumstances. Whenever a testator has a major life change – the death of a beneficiary, the acquisition of a new property, a birth or a marriage, the Will will likely need to change to properly capture the new situation. Below are several life changes that may necessitate a new Will:
- Marriage – while earlier wills were once automatically revoked in British Columbia when a person got married, that is no longer the case. If you have entered into a marriage since your last Will was drafted, you should update it to ensure your new spouse is included as a beneficiary under the Will. Note as well that if you are gaining stepchildren through marriage, they will not inherit any part of your estate under the laws of intestacy. Therefore, if you wish to pass on part of your estate to your new stepchildren, you will need to make this clear in your Will.
- Moving in With a Partner – A common-law spouse is treated as a married spouse after two years of cohabitation in British Columbia. As a spouse, they would become a beneficiary of their partner’s estate under the laws of intestacy. If you and your partner would like to alter how you inherit each other’s estate (if at all) from what is set out in the provincial legislation, it is best to reflect those wishes in a new Will.
- Divorce or the End of a Relationship – If you were married and named your spouse as a beneficiary to your Will, it is important to note that under the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, a divorce will have major implications on their ability to inherit. Under the Act, a former spouse will be treated as having pre-deceased the testator unless the Will says otherwise. Therefore if you intend for your former spouse to inherit part of your estate, you must explicitly state that in the Will, either with a new Will or a codicil.
- The Birth or Adoption of a Child – If you’ve welcomed a new child into your family, this is a great time to revise your existing Will, especially with respect to naming a guardian for your child in the event of your death. Further, if you are a new grandparent you may also want to add your new grandchild as a beneficiary.
Business and Property Changes
- Beginning or Ending a Business Venture – If you have started or sold a business, this will likely have a significant impact on how you wish to structure your Will. Business ownership can add a level of complexity to an estate plan that is best discussed with a skilled business and estate lawyer who can advise you on how to best structure your estate and succession plan.
- Acquiring or Selling Property – The purchase of a vacation home or the sale of a commercial property will affect the value of the estate and you may want to reassess the distribution of your assets accordingly.
- Moving to a New Jurisdiction – If you’ve recently moved out of province or even out of the country, the laws around wills, estates and succession may vary quite significantly. It would be prudent to review your current estate documents with a lawyer in your new location to determine if any changes are needed to properly reflect local laws.
Other Changes to Consider
- The Death of a Beneficiary – If anyone you had previously named as a beneficiary has since passed away, you should update your Will to reflect that change. Even if you have simply reassessed how you would like to see your estate distributed, you should discuss it with your estate lawyer.
- The Death of an Executor – If one or more of your named Executors has passed away, you will want to name new representatives in their place.
Life is full of changes and when they’re happening you’re likely not considering how those changes will affect your Will. This is why taking time for an annual review is prudent. This way, you won’t be caught off guard and neither will your Executors or beneficiaries, or dependents.