A will is one of life’s really important documents. The purpose of a will is to ensure that (so far as possible) your wishes are respected as to what happens to your assets after your death. It allows you to specify who you want to get what and in what circumstances.
If you die without a valid will in place then you will die ‘intestate’. This means that your assets would be dealt with according to Jersey law on intestacy. This may well result in your assets going to people you had not wanted or intended to benefit from them.
The first step is obviously to get a will in place. But a will is not a document you should just do once and then forget about. A will needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure that it takes into account changes in your life and the lives of those close to you. It should, in that sense, be a living document which is adapted to accurately reflect your latest wishes.
There are particular life events which, we think, should prompt everyone to review their will.
Change in relationship
The laws governing succession were developed at a time in which great emphasis was placed on marriage and the legitimacy of children of the marriage. In the modern world people build lives together in a whole variety of ways. If you want to make sure that the people you love benefit from your assets then you must make a will.
Marriage & Divorce
Updating your will should be on the same ‘to-do’ list as sending ‘thank you’ cards!
It is important that your will is updated to reflect the new reality of your family life. Most often, married couples will name their spouse/civil partner as their primary beneficiary (although you don’t have to). Blended families, where couples come together with children from previous relationships, throw up all kinds of questions about who should benefit and to what extent. You may want to ensure that in the event of your death, your children ultimately benefit from your assets, but that your surviving partner is able to continue to benefit from them during the remainder of their life. Or you may want your children to benefit equally with your step-children. Whatever works for you, it is essential that it is recorded in a properly drawn-up will.
It is equally important to review your will in the event of a divorce. You may well want to remove your former spouse from your will, or remove any step-children from benefiting.
It is important to understand that Jersey law does not afford the same rights to unmarried co-habiting couples as to married couples.
There is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. Regardless of whether you have been in a relationship for 6 months or 20 years, if your will does not provide for your unmarried partner then they will have no legal entitlement to your assets. This applies to both movable and immovable property. The only way to ensure that your wishes for them are fulfilled is by making a will.
Birth / Children
The birth of a child is often the trigger to create a will for the first time. Whilst Jersey law makes specific provisions for your children in the event that they were to inherit whilst still a minor (under the age of 18), your will allows you to nominate a Guardian and/or a trusted person to manage your children’s inheritance until they are of age.
Death of a beneficiary
If your will leaves a gift to a person who dies before you, you may wish to update your will. It may be that your will has a ‘backup’ beneficiary already listed, but it is sensible to make sure that this reflects your wishes.
Change in financial circumstances
Any significant change in your financial circumstances, whether for the better or not, should be a trigger for you to review your will. Whether you find yourself inheriting a large sum of money, have sold a particular asset or business, or your numbers come up, you ought to consider who you would want to benefit from your good fortune in the event of your death – you will need to record your wishes in your will.
Equally, if your financial position deteriorates significantly you may wish to review the value of specific gifts. Another circumstance in which you ought to review your will is if you have left a particular item to someone and you then later sell that item, or lose it.
Buying property in Jersey
A house is usually a person’s biggest single asset. It’s essential to consider what you would like to happen to your property when you are gone. Often people wish to leave their ‘share’ of a property to their partner, but there is no obligation to do so. However you want the property to be dealt with, and whoever you wish to benefit, the only way to be certain that it will go where you want it to is by making a will and keeping it updated.
If you come into possession of property or assets outside of Jersey, and it is necessary that a will be put in place to protect that property, it is essential that both you and your lawyer preparing your foreign will ensure that it operates concurrently with your existing will in Jersey, avoiding any unintentional revocation of either Will.
Your will is as an ever-developing document that should be reviewed and updated periodically – at least every few years – to reflect changes in your circumstances. Events such as marriage, divorce, birth or death of loved ones and even finding that winning lottery ticket all call for a thorough review of your Will. By doing so you ensure that your wishes are recorded and give the best possible chance that they can be followed by those who survive you.