Making a will is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your estate goes to who you want and your wishes are carried out as you intended.
Why make a will?
It is vital to make a will if you care about what happens to your property and other assets when you die. A complicated pension and inheritance tax landscape, extended families, and relationship changes all mean it is important to plan how you want to pass on your wealth.
What happens if you don’t make a will
When a person dies without leaving a valid will, their estate must be shared out in accordance with what are called the rules of intestacy – which may not reflect their wishes and can cause unnecessary upset to the bereaved.
Under these rules, only married or civil partners (as opposed to “common law” partners) and some other close relatives can automatically inherit.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, the surviving spouse/civil partner receives the first £250,000 of the estate plus half the remainder, as well as all the personal belongings of the deceased. The children (or their descendants) receive the remainder.
In certain circumstances, this may mean the home that the deceased and their partner lived in has to be sold to pay inheritance tax or fund the distributions to the children. Clearly, this could cause upheaval for the partner at a difficult time.
Equally, with your surviving spouse/civil partner automatically receiving the largest share of your estate, your children may not receive as much you would want.
There are many factors to bear in mind when considering what happens to your estate, and making a will is especially important if:
- You are not married or are not in a registered civil partnership. The law doesn’t view partners who live together as having the same rights as husbands, wives and registered civil partners. So if you haven’t made a will your partner may not get anything, even if you’ve lived together for many years.
- You have an extended family or if several people could make a claim on your estate. If people depend on you financially you may find things could get complicated. Or if you have a large family you may find that there is a minefield of permutations (including potential legal challenges) for you to think about.
- You are getting a divorce. If you are in the process of getting a divorce your spouse or registered civil partner will be entitled to a share of your estate in accordance with the rules of intestacy until the marriage or partnership has been dissolved.
- You are getting married. When you get married (or married again) all previous wills are revoked. So if you have a will already you should update it to ensure your wishes for your new partner and your children are fulfilled.
- You have children or dependents who can’t care for themselves. Not having a will could mean doubts about who will take care or provide for them if you die.
Your solicitor can also advise you on how inheritance tax affects what you own.
Do you need a solicitor?
You can make a will without using a solicitor but Brewin Dolphin recommends (and it is widely advised) that you do seek expert advice. To ensure your will is valid you need to follow a number of legal formalities – a specialist can help you to avoid mistakes which could bring hardship and worry to your loved ones afterwards.
What to have handy for your solicitor
Once you find a solicitor you will need certain information to hand:
- Who benefits from your will? The names of the people who will get your assets and the proportions you want them to have.
- A list of what you own. This should include property; bank accounts and cash savings; shares, ISAs and other investments; cars; insurance and pension policies; business assets.
- Your personal status. Single, married, divorced or in a civil partnership? Are your circumstances about to change? Any children or other dependants? If there is anyone who relies on you financially, they could make a claim on your will if not provided for.
- Your will’s executors. You should know who you want to carry out the administration of your will after you die - whether family, friends, or a professional. You will want their agreement to take on this role as it could involve them for some time and they should ideally have a good grasp of financial matters.
- Extra requests. Whether you have any conditions for your gifts (such as the age at which they should be received), wishes for your funeral, or if you want to be an organ donor. Also, you may need to name a legal guardian for any children who may be under 18 when you die.
Important to remember
- Sign your will. For a will to be valid it needs to be signed, a defined process that must be followed properly to make the will legal. To avoid complications people often use employees at a solicitor’s office as a witness, as a will cannot be witnessed by anyone (including a husband, wife or civil partner) who may be a beneficiary.
- Keep your will in a safe place. Tell your family, your executors or a close friend where it is. People often store their will at a solicitor’s office.
- Costs will vary. Charges depend on how complicated your will is and the experience of your solicitor. It’s often worth shopping around or using a solicitor who is recommended by someone you trust.
- Keep your will up to date. Every time your major personal circumstances change (eg. you get married or divorced, have a child or move home) you should assess the impact on your will and whether you will need a new one drawn up. You can also make small changes (called codicils) to your existing will.
Ensure your wishes are met – the next step
Make the checklist of what you own and who gets what before finding a solicitor. You can find a solicitor near you using the handy list here.
“If you don’t prepare a will, so much of the effort you put into preparing for the future could go to waste,” says George Slack, financial planner at Brewin Dolphin. “Having a will ensures your assets go to who you want them to go to – it doesn’t take long and it could make a big difference to the future of the people you care about most.”
The value of investments can fall and you may get back less than you invested.
Any tax allowances or thresholds mentioned are based on personal circumstances and current legislation, which are subject to change.he information contained in this document is believed to be reliable and accurate, but without further investigation cannot be warranted as to accuracy or completeness.