Everyone should have a will, especially if you have children, or live with your partner and are unmarried. However, it is estimated that 1 in 3 people in the UK die without a will.
If you die without a will then the intestacy rules determine who inherits your assets and it may mean that your loved ones miss out on what you intend for them.
Some points to consider when you decide to prepare a will:
- It is helpful to start by listing everything you own including property, cash, shares and overseas assets.
- Use a professional unless you are certain that your affairs are very simple. The DIY process is full of pitfalls and could mean your will is invalid. You can find a solicitor on the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor service at solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk
- If you have minor children often the most important aspect of your will is to appoint guardians to make sure your wishes are followed for your children. If a guardian is not appointed (or there is no will) then one will be appointed by the Court. Many people choose to write a letter to their appointed guardians setting out some thoughts and wishes. This is not necessary or binding, but can provide comfort to the writer and be of great support to the guardian at a difficult time.
- Think carefully about your executors. Your executors are the people authorised by your will to deal with your estate. This can be an onerous task, especially if you own a property, or overseas assets, are a business owner, or minor children are involved.
- If you are married you will probably want to appoint your spouse as an executor, which makes sense, but make sure that you also appoint a substitute or two.
- Think about your personal belongings. For example, you may decide to gift your personal items to your executors with a request to distribute. This request to distribute your personal possessions is deliberately not legally binding, but is read by your executors in conjunction with a Letter of Wishes. This is useful because it is flexible: you can alter the note as many times as you want after making your will, without the formalities associated with making a will. It is also confidential: the items and recipients of the items do not need to be disclosed in the will itself.
- You may wish to ring-fence a share of your estate so that you ensure your children ultimately benefit from your estate after your partner’s death, regardless of whether your partner remarries.
- If you are co-habiting with your partner but are unmarried you may need to consider whether the survivor can afford to remain in the family home. Will inheritance tax become due? Do you have sufficient life insurance in place?
- With minor children it is worth considering when you want them to inherit. For example if your will is silent then your children will have full control of their inheritance at age 18. This can be changed by your will.
- Your will can be a way of letting your loved ones know the kind of funeral you would like, and whether you would prefer a burial or cremation.
- A valid will must be signed by you in front of two independent adult witnesses (not beneficiaries).
- Do not amend your will once it is signed, or attach anything to it.
- Review your will regularly, especially if you get married/enter a civil partnership, divorce, or if you have children or purchase property.
- Keep your will safe, but never in a safety deposit box. A bank cannot open a safety deposit box without probate, but probate cannot be obtained without the will!
Kim Peacock is head of the Private Client Department at Peacock & Co Solicitors in Wimbledon. Kim undertakes all matters connected with Wills, Trusts, Inheritance Tax planning, Estate Administration, Powers of Attorney and Mental Capacity issues.