Talking about your will might not be easy. However, writing a will is one of the most important things you can do. When you pass away, your will can have a huge impact on your loved ones. This document allows you to decide what happens to your property, finances and possessions after your death, and who they will be given to. On the other hand, without a will, the law will decide who your possessions and assets will go to. This could cause unnecessary distress to your relatives and loved ones. We know that making a will can be a daunting prospect, but this needn’t be the case. Today’s post explains everything that you need to know about making a will, from putting your document together to making sure that it is kept in a secure place.
What is a Will and Why is it Important?
A will is a legal document which allows you to distribute your money, property, and other possessions among your loved ones after you pass away. Making a will is the only way to make sure that your estate is shared out according to your wishes.
Over 70% of people in the UK below the age of 64 have not yet drawn up their last will and testament. A greater number of over 65s possess a will – but still over 40% haven’t yet obtained one. Some people don’t feel they have enough to leave – others prefer not to contemplate the future.
When someone dies without a will, their estate may not go to the people they would have wanted it to, or it could get stuck in limbo for several years. This can place great emotional and financial strain on your loved ones in the already-stressful time after your death. Other reasons why it is important to make a will include:
- Without a will, unmarried partners or partners who have not registered a civil partnership cannot inherit anything from one another.
- With a will, it is possible to reduce the amount of tax payable on the inheritance.
- You can state your specific funeral plans in your will.
- Crucially, you can choose who will look after your children or step-children if they are under the age of 18.
- You can decide what should happen to any family pets.
Making a Will
You can choose to write your will yourself if your estate is straightforward and easy to arrange. However, most experts would advise you to seek legal advice before you finalise anything. When making a will, you should consider every eventuality – for example, what if one of your beneficiaries passed away before you did? These possibilities are easily forgotten, but they can make the process of writing a will a little confusing. Instead, lots of people choose to use a will writing service or hire a solicitor.
Before selecting a service or solicitor, we would advise shopping around, getting a few quotes and reading online reviews about the firm. When you start putting your document together, you need to make sure that you have outlined:
- What you own: money, property, and any possessions.
- The people you want to benefit from your will.
- Who will look after any children under the age of 18.
- Who you would like to sort out your estate and carry out any wishes after you’ve died – these people are called executors.
- What happens if the people you want to benefit die before you do.
The first step in making a will is valuing your estate. You should draw up a list of assets and debts. Assets commonly include your home and any other property that you own, savings in banks and building society accounts, insurance, pension funds, savings and bonds, vehicles, stocks and shares, furniture and jewellery. Debts may include your mortgage, any loans, bank overdrafts and your credit card balance.
After you’ve accounted for all the assets and debts above, you should start thinking about who you would like to leave things to. For example, you can choose to divide your estate between multiple people in different proportions; half to your spouse and a quarter each to your two children, for example.
Be aware that, according to Money Saving Expert, the people you select do not have to accept anything that you leave them. If a person disclaims a bequest, it goes in with the residue of the estate. This is dealt with under the residuary clause in the document.
Next up are the executors. These are the people who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and sorting out your estate. It will be down to them to collect all of the assets of the estate, deal with any paperwork and pay any debts, taxes, funeral and administration costs out of money from your estate. They will also need to pay out the gifts and transfer any property to the other beneficiaries.
It is advisable to choose more than one executor, just in case anything happens to one of them. You can choose up to four people to be your executors; these are usually:
- Family members.
- Close friends.
- A Public Trustee if nobody else is willing to act.
Choosing your executors is extremely important and you think carefully before making a decision. You should always approach anyone you are thinking of appointing as an executor to see if they will agree to take on the responsibility. If someone you appoint is not willing to be an executor, they have a right to refuse.
Ensuring that your Will is Legal
For your will to be legal and valid, you need to sign it in front of two witnesses. Those witnesses must also sign the will document and neither they nor their husband, wives or civil partners can benefit from your will in anyway. In other words, they need to be neutral.
If you can’t sign the will, it can also be signed on your behalf, as long as you’re in the room and it is signed at your direction. However, you must have the mental capacity to make the will, otherwise the document is invalid.
Citizens Advice outlines the following criteria for your document to be valid:
- It must be made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person.
- It must be made by a person who is fully aware of the nature of such a document being written or signed.
- The person writing the will needs to be aware of the property and the identity of the people who may inherit.
- Although it will be legally valid even if it is not dated, it is advisable to ensure that the document includes the date on which it is signed.
As soon as you and your witnesses have signed the document, the will is complete.
The cost of making a will can vary greatly depending on how complicated the will is and whether you use a solicitor, service, or write it yourself. However, there are plenty of schemes and groups out there which provide free wills for qualifying individuals. There are a number of trade unions, such as the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Fire Brigades Union which offer free or heavily discounted will-writing services to their members.
If you have legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, that may also include a will service. Therefore, it’s worth checking your policy.
Several charities also offer solicitor will writing schemes, which are usually completely free. In return, they will hope that you make a donation (either then or in your will).
One such example is the Free Wills Month charity. Every March and October, they can help people across the UK write or update their will if they are over 55.
After making a will, you will need to keep the document in a safe and secure location where your executors can access it. The majority of solicitors will store your will for free if you made the will through them, whereas will writers will commonly charge a one-off fee.
Alternately, you can store your will with your bank, other companies which offer the storage of wills, with the London Probate Service or in a secure location within your home. Your will needs to be kept in pristine condition, as any marks may call the will’s validity into question. Similarly, never attach anything to your will document using staples or paperclips.
Updating your Will
According to experts, you should review your will every five years or after any major changes in your life. Such changes could include:
- Getting married – which cancels out any will you had previously made.
- Getting a divorce or separating from your partner.
- Having a child.
- Moving to a new house.
- If the executor dies.
To make any official changes to your will, you will need to sign a document known as a codicil in front of witnesses. The codicil supplement will make some alterations to your will while leaving the rest of the document intact. The witnesses do not have to be the same as those for the original will.
Although there is no limit on the number of codicils you can add, they are only suitable for straightforward changes. If there are any complicated changes to make, it is usually better to make a new will.
The new will must explain clearly that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. Your old will should then be destroyed.
Peace of Mind
No one likes to think about it, but making a will can give you great peace of mind. If you haven’t made one already, you should write your will sooner rather than later.
Similarly, if you’re looking for peace of mind in your home, a Lifeline alarm could be the perfect solution. Our personal alarms help thousands of elderly and disabled people live safely and independently in their own homes. For more information about our service, please get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.