No one wants to think about dying, so making a will often gets pushed to the back of the ‘to do’ list. Here’s why it shouldn’t…
Why do I need a will?
In the event of your death, do you think your partner or kids would automatically inherit everything? Not necessarily. ‘Intestacy rules’ are the pre-determined government rules that dictate how your things would be divvied out if you haven’t made a will. Some are obvious, but many are surprising.
“People put off making a will believing it’s too depressing or complicated to think about,” admits Lucy Langley, founder of independent will writing service Bath Wills. “But sorting it out now can really save your loved ones cost and heartache later.”
…and how to write one
“There are libraries full of books on how to do this,” says Lucy, “but there’s no substitute for taking proper legal advice. The cost of a basic will is usually between £100 and £300, more for a complex will that protects your assets.
“DIY wills are far cheaper, usually around £20 or even less. Although it can seem tempting, doing it yourself can be risky, especially in today’s world of blended families, co-habitees and second marriages.”
Who gets what?
Make sure you cover everything, from personal assets to all the property you own. And keep your will up to date; have you considered what would happen if the person you choose to inherit – your beneficiary – died before you? The government has rules that will decide for you.
Most people choose between one and four executors to sort out their affairs after their death. Make sure they’re people you trust, like family, check they agree to doing it, and tell them where your will is stored.
Do you own property jointly with anyone? If so, they will inherit it on your death, no matter what your will says. If you own property overseas it’s important to tell your solicitor or will writer.
Everyone needs their own will, but some couples make ‘mirror’ wills that reflect the will of the other partner. But this probably wouldn’t work if either of you have children from a previous relationship.
Who will look after your children if you and the other parent are not around? If you are separated, it could get complicated if you choose different guardians. If no guardians are appointed, Social Services may need to step in. If young children will inherit, you’ll need to choose trustees to look after their inheritance until they are 18.
If you plan to leave someone out of your will who might otherwise expect to inherit (eg, an adult child or anyone you have supported) they could make a claim on your estate after your death.
You might want to write them a letter explaining your reasons for leaving them out. If that person later pursued a claim, ultimately, a judge would decide whether they should get anything or not.
Getting wills properly signed
If a will isn’t properly signed in front of two adult witnesses aware of what you’re doing,
it could be invalid.
Intestacy rules do not recognise unmarried partners, however long you have lived together. Equally, getting married usually cancels out an existing will. This catches out a lot of people when it comes to second marriages, and can lead to cases of accidentally disinheriting your children if your spouse remarries someone else after your death and doesn’t make a new will.
There are ways of drafting your will to make sure your share of the estate is available to your surviving partner to use and enjoy during their lifetime, but on their death your share passes to your children, whether your partner remarries Cruella De Vil or not.