Talking about wills and death is not pleasant, however making your will is very important as it will have a huge impact on your loved ones once you have passed away. This document allows you to decide what happens to your property, finances and possessions after your death, and who they will be given to.
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 & Why is it Important?
A will is a legal document which allows you to state your wishes regarding the distribution of your belongings, money, property and the care of any minor children once you have passed away. Creating said document is the only way to make sure that your ‘estate’ goes to the people or causes that you care about the most.
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.
Without a will, your estate may not go to the people that you want and may become stuck in limbo for years. This may place financial strain on your loved ones and cause several arguments between family members. Other reasons why it is important to make a will include:
- Without one, 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.
- 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.
Writing your 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 to ensure that everything is done correctly and that you’re getting exactly what you wanted from it.
Hiring legal help will ensure that there are no mistakes and that any disputes or confusion is solved before you pass away. A solicitor will be able to write the document for you, following extensive discussions about your estate.
Before selecting a 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:
- Who you want to benefit from your will.
- How much money and what property and possessions you have.
- Who will look after any children under the age of 18.
- Who is going to sort out your estate and carry out any wishes after you’ve died.
- What happens if the people you want to benefit die before you do.
So, to begin with, you will need to value your estate by drawing 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 everything above has been written down and accounted for, you can begin to choose how you want to divide your estate and who the recipients will be. For example, you can choose to divide your estate between multiple people in different proportions; half to your spouse an a quarter each to your two children.
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 is the executors. These are the people who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and sort 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 beneficiaries.
It is advised to choose more than one executor, just in case anything happens to one of them. Up to four people can be chosen to be your executors, and the people commonly chosen are:
- Family members.
- Close friends.
- A Public Trustee if nobody else is willing to act.
Choosing your executors is extremely important and you need to be careful when choosing yours. 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 is appointed who 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 people chosen to be witnesses must also sign the will document and they, nor their husband, wives or civil partners, cannot benefit from your will in anyway – 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 it, otherwise the document is invalid.
Citizens Advice outline 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 your will has been signed by you and your witnesses, it is complete.
Wills can cost anywhere upwards of around £80, 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 opted to get legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, that may also include a will service so it’s worth checking your policy.
There are also several charities which offer solicitor will writing schemes, which are usually completely free. In return, while you’re not obliged to, they hope you donate or bequest (a donation in your will) as part of it.
One such example is the Free Wills Month charity. Every March and October is classed as a free month if you’re over the age of 55 for a individual will or if one of you are over 55 for a mirror will as a couple.
Once your will has been completed, you will need to keep it in a safe and secure location. 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, any marks or detachments may call the will’s validity into question.
Updating your Will
According to experts, you should review your will every five years or after any major changes that occur in your life. Such changes would 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 and have it witnessed in the same way as your will was. The codicil supplement will make some altercations to your will but leaves the rest of the document intact. The witnesses do not have to be the same as for the original will.
Although there is no limit on the number of codicils that can be added, they are only suitable for straightforward changes. If a complicated change is involved, it is usually advisable to make a new will.
In the new will, it will need to explain clearly that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. Your old will should then be destroyed.
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