Due to COVID-19, there has sadly been an increase in unexpected deaths of older family members in the last year and, often, the deceased haven't had time to check that their Will still reflects their wishes and the needs of their family.
However, whilst you may think that a Will is set in stone, a deceased's bequests can be legally altered via a ‘deed of variation’ if their family decides to distribute assets differently from that laid out in their Will. So, whilst a deed of variation doesn't give someone free rein to do what they like with someone's Will, (it’s not a chance to eliminate your siblings from an inheritance for example!) it can alter who benefits from it. There has been a rise in the number of families wanting a ‘deed of variation’ during the pandemic, with the most common reason being to reduce inheritance tax bills by allowing an estate to skip a generation. People often inherit from their elderly parents during their 50s or 60s when they are more financially comfortable, so this can help younger family members who are more in need of support.
You could pass your inheritance on to children without a deed of variation of course but, if you die within seven years, the money could trigger an inheritance tax bill - so a deed averts that danger. The Will can’t be changed unless everyone agrees on the amendments so, to be valid, the deed of variation must be written within two years of the death and signed by all executors and beneficiaries of the estate. A deed of variation may not be possible if any of the beneficiaries of the Will are under 18 though, as they will be classed as a minor and, therefore, legally unable to agree to the changes.
There’s no specific form to fill in for a deed of variation – you simply need to write a letter explaining the changes you wish to make and keep it safe with the Will - and, as long as it meets the government's instrument of variation checklist requirements, the changes can go ahead.
Getting a solicitor to help draft it will ensure it is legally binding and, once written, all parties should sign, witness and date the deed of variation.