Holly Andrews highlights the value of a Will to your end of life plans and what your key considerations should be.
What is a Will for?
Having a Will in place serves two main purposes when you die - it specifies what should happen to your property, belongings and money (these things that are yours make up your 'estate') and also states who will be your executor. The executor will be responsible for distributing your estate and carrying out any other wishes you have included in your Will. Your will can also include other more sensitive details, such as what you want to have happen to your body and who should have custody of your children. Less than half of the UK population have a Will in place and if you die without having written one then your estate will be divided in accordance with the law.
Who will inherit my estate if I don't write a Will?
How your estate would be distributed depends on your circumstances. However, it is common for family situations to be complicated and it is very likely that your estate would not be divided up as you would like.
- If you have an unmarried partner/ not in a civil partnership, your partner is not legally entitled to anything when you die.
- If you are married, your husband/wife may inherit most or even all of your estate and your children may not get anything. This is particularly worth thinking about if you have children from another relationship. Getting married revokes a Will in England and Wales but not in Scotland.
- If you have children and/or grandchildren, how much they would inherit depends on where in the UK you live.
- If you have no close relatives, under the 'Bona Vacantia' law, your estate would belong to the crown or government.
Not having a Will to clearly state your wishes can also lead to disputes amongst the family at a time when your closest relatives may be struggling with grief and you will not be around to resolve the issues. Save your family time and any unnecessary arguments by taking the time to write a Will and also appoint an executor that you feel can manage dealing with your estate.
Choosing an executor (or executors)
You can have more than one executor and it is a good idea to have two in case one executor dies before you do. Executors need to be aged 18 or over and can be a beneficiary of your Will. Most people choose their spouse and/or children, however keep in mind that sorting out a person's estate can take months and may involve making big decisions such as selling the home of the deceased in order to distribute the estate and paying any inheritance tax, so choose executors that won't find the task too much to deal with. Depending on your circumstances, it may help your family is you choose a solicitor or an accountant as an additional executor to deal with working out tax to pay or resolving any other issues that may be tricky.
If you decide to choose a solicitor or an accountant, make sure you find out how they will want to be paid. They could want payment after the estate has been sorted out or they may want a share of the value of the estate.
It is important to state the full names and address of the executors in your Will.
As a last resort, if there is no responsible adult that you could name as an executor, for example if the only beneficiaries of your will are children, then the government official known as the Public Trustee can be your executor. Here are three options to consider as you prepare to write your Will.
Use a solicitor
You can arrange to see a solicitor to write your Will, use a Will writing service or even write the document yourself.
Using a solicitor to write your Will gives the most peace of mind as they are regulated and there is less chance of mistakes! If you forget to sign your Will or it is not correctly witnessed then it could be useless. It is worth using a solicitor if you have a complicated family situation, or if there is someone vulnerable who you want to ensure will be looked after when you are no longer around. If the estate you leave is going to be complex to divide, such as having assets abroad or if you have your own business then you may want to talk about things with a solicitor, and you need to keep in mind that inheritance tax will need to be paid if your estate is worth more than £325,000. Using a solicitor is the most expensive Will-writing option, you can expect to pay around £300 for an individual Will or up to around £400 for a Will to be written for a couple. When finding out the cost of the service, check whether you can pick your own executor(s) and if you do want to use the solicitor as an executor, find out the cost of this in addition to writing your Will as it can be expensive! The solicitor should store your Will safely at no additional cost.
Use a Will writing service
Using a Will writing service is likely to cost around £75 plus an additional amount if you want them to store the Will for you. The writer will not necessarily be legally qualified and they are not regulated in the same way as solicitors, therefore less protection is offered should something go wrong, so only choose this option to write your Will if your situation is fairly straightforward. Some banks offer this Will writing service, but whoever you decide to use, always check that they belong to either the Institute of Professional Will Writers or the Society of Will Writers.
Write your own
Writing your own Will is the riskiest of the three options, although you can buy Will writing templates to help you online or in some shops from as little as £10. Only write your own Will if it is going to be very straightforward, for example if you are married with no step family and you want everything to go to your partner or your children should something happen to your partner before you.
Making changes to your Will
It is possible to make small changes to your Will without having to write a new one, by adding a note called a 'Codicil'. The codicil will need to be signed and witnessed in the same way as a new Will, although you do not need to use the same witnesses.
If you need to make any complicated changes then it is better to write a new Will. Ensure that the new will clearly states that it revokes the previous Will and any codicils, and you should also destroy all previous Wills.
Might your will be contested?
Although we have the freedom to leave money to whoever we choose, there are certain grounds which disgruntled family members can use to contest a Will if they have been left out or did not receive what they consider to be a fair proportion of the estate. There was a case in the media recently about a lady who left her entire estate to be shared between three different animal charities and left nothing to her estranged daughter. Her daughter contested the Will and has now been awarded an inheritance of £164,000 which is one third of the estate. This judgement was made on the basis that she had not been left 'reasonable provision' in the Will, even though it clearly stated that the deceased did not wish for her daughter to benefit from her estate.
With this case in mind, if you wish to disinherit your children, you will need to make it clear that you do have a connection with the beneficiaries to ensure that your wishes are carried out. It may also help to explain why you do not wish for someone to benefit from your estate.