The importance of making a Will
A Will is a legal document which states how you wish your estate to be distributed after your death. Making a Will enables you to:
- Make provision for your wife, husband or partner, your family members and friends
- Appoint guardians for your children
- Establish trust funds to look after your children’s financial future
- Provide for any specific wishes you may have regarding the bequest of certain items of property or sums of money to friends, relatives or charities
- Plan the distribution of your estate advantageously for tax purposes
- State your wishes regarding your funeral arrangements and
- Appoint executors to administer your estate in accordance with the terms of your Will
You do not have to be wealthy to need a Will. Indeed some of the most complicated problems arise from the smallest of estates. However, your estate could be worth much more than you think.
The majority of Wills are fairly straightforward and it is therefore not expensive to have one professionally drafted. Even if a complicated Will costs you a little more you can be sure it is a good investment, which buys peace of mind for you and your family.
Can I make my own Will?
You can buy a “Will kit” and write out your own, but this can often prove to be a false economy. It may not save time or money in the end and may well cause serious complications for your family. Any mistakes you make, or important matters you leave out, will only be known after your death, which is, of course, too late.
Many of the mistakes are made when it comes to signing and witnessing the Will, which if done incorrectly invalidates the whole Will. Worse still, a badly drawn Will could result in your estate going to the wrong people, which could cause untold hardship or distress.
What happens if I don’t have a Will?
Strict rules have been laid down by Act of Parliament stating who inherits your property if you die without making a Will (known as dying “intestate”). This may well turn out to be unfair, illogical and not as you would have wished.
For example, a spouse may not automatically receive your whole of the estate. If your children or parents are still alive, your spouse will receive a proportion, with the remainder going to your children or even, in certain situations, your parents. This can have the most unfortunate and inconvenient consequences for everyone, often causing serious financial problems and family disputes.
Is my Will out of date?
There are certain circumstances which will automatically change your Will. Marriage will automatically revoke an existing Will and a divorce makes gifts to your ex-spouse and their appointment as your executor invalid. In these circumstances there may be unforeseen results and it would be much safer to make a new Will.
You may however simply wish to make an addition to the Will, or a deletion from it. Where the alteration is a minor one, you can add what is known as a “codicil”, rather than making a completely new Will. We will advise you on the most appropriate method of accommodating any changes.
In any event we recommend that you review your Will at least every five years.
Some of the most common reasons for wishing to revise your Will include:
- If any of your named executors or beneficiaries have died, you may need to choose new ones
- If you are cohabiting, you may wish to make specific provision for your partner who will not otherwise have the same rights concerning your Estate as a spouse. Inheritance Tax may be a particular concern as your partner will not benefit from the ‘spouse exemption’
- If you have sold or otherwise disposed of items or assets specifically gifted in your Will, you may wish to ensure that the beneficiary still inherits something and
- If your children have reached the age of majority since the date of your last Will, or if you now have grandchildren you wish to benefit
Who will carry out my wishes?
You can choose to have between one and four executors to ensure that the terms of your Will are carried out and that the whole of your estate is properly administered. You can appoint whoever you like as your executor, provided they are over 18 years old and are preferably living in the UK. It is advisable however, to ask the person beforehand if they would be prepared to act as your executor.
You can appoint a professional such as a solicitor to be your executor. You can then be assured that he/she is fully trained to take on the wide variety of technical and administrative problems that may arise. In practice, this in no way diminishes the involvement of your family and can in fact ease the burden on someone who, because of your death, may not be able to face dealing with a lot of paperwork straight away.
You may find our blog articles including, 'What Proportion of Adults Do Not Have a Will?', 'Can You Write Your Own Will Without a Solicitor?' and 'Why Choose a Lawyer Who is a Member of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE)?' of further interest. Please see further information on our team of Wills, Probate, Tax & Trusts solicitors and our full range of services.