Despite this being an age of complicated financial affairs and intricate family relationships, more than two-thirds of people in the UK do not have a will ready to deal with their affairs upon their death. So why do so many people simply refuse to make one?
Below are some of the key reasons why you should strongly consider having a professionally drawn up will to be your top priority.
If you care about what happens to your property after you die, you should make a will. Without one, the State directs who inherits, so your friends, preferred charities and relatives may get nothing.
A will is also vital if you have children or dependents that may not be able to care for themselves. Without a will there could be uncertainty about who will look after or provide for them if you die.
It is also very important to seek advice in relation to inheritance tax and how it affects what you own. You should also consider taking legal advice about making a will if:
- Several people could make a claim on your estate when you die because they depend on you financially
- You want to include a trust in your will (perhaps to provide for young children or a disabled person, save tax, or simply protect your assets in some way after you die) anything over £325,000 ( present Nil Rate Band) is subject to Inheritance tax at the rate of 40% upon death.
- Your permanent home is not in the UK or you are not a British citizen
- You live here but you have overseas property, or
- You own all or part of a business.
Once you have had a will drawn up, some changes to your circumstances – for example, marriage, separation or divorce – can make all or part of that will invalid or inadequate. This means that you must review your will regularly, to reflect any major life changes. A solicitor can tell you what changes may be necessary to update your will.
Using a solicitor
Although it is possible to write a will without a solicitor’s help, this is generally not advisable as there are various legal formalities you need to follow to make sure that your will is valid. Without the help of an expert, there’s a real risk you could make a mistake, which could cause problems for your family and friends after your death.
What your solicitor will need to know
Once you have appointed a solicitor, they will need the following details from you.
What you own
Details of everything you own, including property, cars, personal valuables, stocks and shares, bank accounts, insurance policies, any businesses you own, and pensions.
Who gets what?
Who do you want to leave these assets to? How do you want to divide your property between your loved ones, friends or charities? Are there any conditions you want to attach to these gifts (for example that young people must reach a particular age before they are paid money you have left them)? Do you have children with special need and you wish to provide specific provision for them?
Family and other beneficiaries
Consider your family circumstances; Are you married, divorced or about to be separated. Have you remarried or entered into a new relationship? Or are you living with someone without being married to them or being their civil partner? Do you have any children or any other dependents?
Anyone who depends on you financially can ask a court to review your will if they feel you have not provided properly for them. If you give your solicitor relevant details, they can tell you about any legal pitfalls.
If you have any children that may still be under 18 when you die, you may need to name someone as their legal guardian.
Do you have any particular wishes for your funeral? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Are there any other instructions? For example, if you want to be an organ donor this can be included in your will. However, it is also a good idea to record your wishes on the organ-donor register, or to carry an organ-donor card.
Executors of your will
You must also name the people you want to appoint as ‘executors’ of your will – the people who carry out the administration of your will after your death. These could be friends or family members, or a professional such as your solicitor. A good combination would be a friend or family member and a professional. Ideally, you should choose someone who is familiar with financial matters. Make sure you ask your executors whether they are happy to take on this duty as there are long-term responsibilities involved, particularly if you include a trust in your will.
Signing the will
Once the will has been drawn up it is not effective until it has been signed. There are several rules affecting the signature process which, if not followed correctly, will make your will invalid. For example, witnesses and their husbands, wives or civil partners cannot benefit under the will. Many people use staff at their solicitor’s office to act as their witnesses to avoid this problem.
Where to keep the will
It is important to keep your will in a safe place and tell your executors or a close friend or relative where it is. People often ask their solicitor to store their wills for them. Most solicitors will do this for free, but sometimes there is a small fee.
Keeping your will up to date
You should review your will at least every five years and after any major life change such as getting separated, married or divorced, having a child or moving house. It is best to deal with any major changes by getting a new will drawn up. But it is also possible to make minor changes (codicils) to your existing will. In both cases it is best to consult a solicitor.
Charges for drawing up a will can vary between solicitors. They also depend on the experience and knowledge of the solicitor and how complicated your will may be.