IN THE event of your death, your loved ones will not need the added stress of dealing with your estate. And making a will in advance is the most effective way of making a difficult situation easier.
Not only does a will help to efficiently distribute your assets to people of your choice, it’s also a tool for assigning legal responsibility over your children. Sarah Hollowell of Killik says “there is never a wrong time to write a will” and it should be considered at any significant life change.
Almost 60 per cent of UK adults don’t have a will, and one in three die without having written one. This is not a good position to be left in. Your estate will be subject to rules of intestacy, which follow set rules to dispose of your assets, rather than following your own preferences or priorities.
HAVING THE WILL
The first step is deciding what you are going to pass on, and to whom. Wills are made up of a combination of cash, bequests, and remaining possessions. Your will should also outline what will happen with any residual items that aren’t specifically cited.
Some things are not covered: death in service payments are one exclusion, as are foreign property holdings, which are subject to local rules. The case of the late businessman Bernard Matthews, whose mistress is in dispute with his children over the ownership of a French chateau, highlights the importance of professional advice with regards to foreign holdings.
Currently, will writing is unregulated, but that may change in a few years. A key consideration is whether you have a professional write your will, or do it yourself. Using online will writing tools, for example, can be cheaper.
John Bunker of Thomas Eggar advises the use of professionals: “There can be hidden traps in a will, including detailed points about wording, and things that need to be included. So many wills made with the best of intentions leave cause for dispute or misunderstanding.”
Bespoke wills also allow better inheritance tax planning, and can cover nuanced factors like giving consent for family to continue living in your property. They ensure that subtle issues are properly planned for, which is instrumental in avoiding disputes between beneficiaries after you have passed on.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE MONEY
A will isn’t just about wealth; it is also about assigning legal responsibility. If you have children under the age of 18, your will should state who would be their legal guardian (if both parents were to die). If a guardian has not been nominated in a will, a court will make that decision.
This is an important point also for couples with step-children. It is also fair to make provisions for the guardian – looking after a child can be costly, and you don’t want to cause financial inconvenience.
Choosing an executor, who will be responsible for carrying out the instructions of your will, is another key consideration. While it may be tempting to list your spouse, in the worst case scenario you may both die together, so it is a good idea to list more than one person. Being an executor is a position of huge responsibility; friends or family are options but, for more complex estates, it is advisable to have an impartial executor. It may be a good idea to appoint a professional to work alongside appointed individuals – like a trust company.
Naturally, a will must be signed, and independently witnessed. Upon death, an original signed copy must be presented. If it isn’t, the will may not be legally enforceable. Therefore, it is important to also ensure that the will is stored in a safe place and executors should be told where that is.
Keeping your will up to date is important, too. Hollowell says that “an out of date will is just as bad as no will at all”. Marriage is the only event that revokes a will. Divorce doesn’t, so make sure you review it every few years, and always with significant life changes, like a birth, death or marriage.
THERE IS A WAY
Solicitors supporting Will Aid, a charity promoting will writing, are waiving their fees in November. Last year, they encouraged 27,000 to make a will. Spokesperson Shirley Marsland says that “people are not making wills because they don’t believe they need to, and their lack of knowledge can cost families a small fortune.”
Hopefully, November is the month that the unprepared 60 per cent of Brits have the will to find their way to properly planning for the worst.