Nobody wants to think about the consequences of their death. However, planning for this eventuality will bring a lot of relief and save a lot of worries for your family when they are already burdened with mourning after the loss of a loved one. Since you are reading this article, it means that you’ve finally made the decision to behave responsibly and stop avoiding this topic.
What happens if I don’t have a will?
Anyone over the age of 18 should consider creating a will. If you don’t make a will, the rules of intestacy dictate what will happen to your property and assets, and who can manage the division of your assets. Often, people don’t realise what that means exactly in their situation. Unfortunately, in many cases the rules of intestacy do not correspond with what the deceased person would have liked to have happened. The very question of determining who should deal with the administration of the estate can be very complicated and time-consuming, and often very costly if your family has to consult a lawyer to get things done.
The diagram below explains what can happen to your assets if you don’t make a will.
As you can see from the diagram above and what surprises many people is the fact that the spouse does not necessarily inherit the entire estate of the deceased person. Also, people who are in long-term relationships but are not married have very little rights to inherit. This is especially sad in cases where the deceased left children. In such cases, the other parent has to apply to the court for inheritance from their former partner’s estate. This is a very lengthy and expensive process. Of course, there is also no guarantee that the claim will be successful.
Making a will gives you peace of mind and knowledge that your last wishes will be fulfilled. In your will, you appoint a person to deal with your assets after your death. Without a will, someone in your family will have to apply to the court for the authority to deal with the estate.
How to make a valid will?
- For a will to be valid, it must meet specific legal requirements. In the law covering England and Wales, these requirements are:
- The will must be in writing.
- The will must be signed by the person making the will or by another person at the direction of the person making the will (e.g. if the person making the will is unable to sign the will themselves due to a disability).
- The signature mentioned above must be made in the presence of two independent witnesses. The witnesses must not be entitled to inherit anything under the will, nor may they be the spouse / relative of any person named in the will.
- Witnesses must also sign a will in the presence of the person making it.
It is important that the will is written in plain language so that there is no doubt as to what the person writing it meant. In the event of a dispute about the meaning of a will, any ambiguity will have to be determined by the court. This, of course, is very expensive and additionally extends the administration time unnecessarily.
Do I need a lawyer to make a will?
The help of a lawyer specialising in wills can save you a lot of trouble and costs after your death. The cost of making a will by a lawyer can start at £ 100 plus VAT, which is a very low price compared to the work, advice and expertise the lawyer can provide. The lawyer will thoroughly go through your family and financial situation with you and advise you on how to best make a will in your individual situation, so that your family will benefit the most and that your last wishes are carried out. Often a lawyer can also suggest additional ideas that you may not have thought about. For example, what happens if the people you want to leave something in the will die before you. However, the most important part of a lawyer’s job is advice on inheritance tax. A well-drafted will can save your family even thousands of pounds in tax bills.
Professional advice is especially important if:
- You have your own business or you receive profits from stocks or shares;
- You are not a British citizen and you own property here;
- You want to leave something to people outside your immediate family;
- You want to plan a division of property so that your estate pays as little inheritance tax as possible;
- You own any property outside of the United Kingdom;
- You have special conditions regarding the donation, e.g. at what age the heirs may receive the gift;
- You have children from a previous relationship and you want to leave something for them;
- For any reason, you don’t want to leave your inheritance to your children;
- You have someone who currently depends on you financially and you want them to be supported after your death;
- You want to plan on funding care for you when you reach old age so that care fees do not consume all your assets.
What will happen after the will is made?
After making a will, law firms often offer to store wills in a secure archive for free for life. This gives an additional element of protection. After your death, your will will only be released to persons authorised to read it upon presentation of a death certificate and required documents confirming their identity.
Of course, if you have to make any amendments during your lifetime, the lawyer will release your will to you and, on request, advise you on how to best change its contents.
Situations when changes to the will may be needed include:
- Death of a person for whom you left something in your will;
- Major changes in your financial situation;
- Divorce or marriage (a marriage formed after the date when the will was made completely invalidates the will);
- Birth of children;
- Purchase of property;
- Changes in relationships with people to whom you left something in the will.
A good rule is, if something major happens in your life, consider whether your will needs changing.
If you want to know more about making a will, don’t leave it for later. Contact us on 01423 788538 or email us at [email protected]