It's important to remember that estate planning is an ongoing process. Your will is not a set-and-forget type of document - as you grow older and your situation changes, your will should be updated to reflect this.
You should review your will on a regular basis - at least once every five years - to make sure it reflects your present wishes. If it doesn't, you are free to make any changes you see fit at any time.
There are also a number of times in your life when you might want to alter the contents of your will. The New South Wales Trustee and Guardian suggests the following:
- When you get married, or re-married.
- When you get divorced or separate from your spouse or de facto partner.
- When your spouse or de facto partner - or anyone else who have named as a beneficiary in your will - dies.
- When you have children.
- When your children get married or divorced, or have children of their own.
- When the person you have named as the executor of your will becomes ill, dies or is "unable to handle the responsibility" of their position for some reason.
- When you purchase or sell assets, such as property.
If you decide that your will needs to be updated, the Law Society of New South Wales is adamant that you can't simply change it "by crossing something out and writing something different."
Instead, you have two options - one if you're only making a small amendment to the document, and the other if you're planning on introducing some major changes.
In the first instance, you can make something that's known as a "codicil". This is a document that amends, but does not replace, your existing will. The codicil must adhere to all of the same legal requirements as your will in order to be considered valid - for instance, it must be signed by you and witnessed by at least two people. It must also be in writing (either printed or handwritten).
If, however, you are going to drastically alter your will, the Law Society of New South Wales recommends starting over - this should be less time consuming and reduce the likelihood of mistakes being made.
A will that isn't up to date could lead to estate disputes if certain people who should have been mentioned in it are not.
For more information about estate planning or to challenge a will, contact Dominic Wilson, an experienced estate lawyer at Craddock Murray Neumann, on 02 8268 4000.