A Will is a legal document that establishes where your money, property and possessions will go after you die

The assets you leave behind can hold both financial and sentimental value, and a Will can outline any final wishes you may have such as specifying that certain items are to be inherited by named family members, friends or left to a designated charity.

In today’s modern society, the family structure can be complex, with complicated financial affairs and intricate family relationships becoming common-place. Civil partnerships, second marriages and co-habiting are part of the fabric of modern Britain yet despite this, research published by the Dying Matters Coalition found that only 36% of adults in the UK have a Will.  And, even if you do have a Will, Aegis Wealth suggest that “up to 50% of current Wills are outdated, for example by marriage or divorce, which could mean that entirely the wrong people benefit in those cases.”

A quick search online will show that there are many misconceptions surrounding inheritance laws, and should you die intestate, i.e. without having made a Will, your surviving loved ones could find themselves dealing with complicated paperwork during an emotionally challenging time. Whilst the law has changed regarding what happens to your estate if you die intestate, not all of your assets will automatically pass to your surviving spouse or civil partner, this will only happen if you don’t have any children.  If you die without a Will, your assets are likely to be divided per the rules of ‘intestacy’; therefore it is only by making a Will that you can stay in control of how your assets are passed on and who benefits from them. 

With the inheritance tax rate at 40%, if your estate is worth more than £325,000 this can result in a large chunk of your family’s inheritance going to the State. There are however ways to set up your Will to reduce the amount of inheritance tax paid and it is worthwhile speaking to a specialist solicitor or financial advisor about your options.

Whilst thinking about and planning for death makes most people feel uncomfortable with many preferring to put it off, Law firm Royds Withy King suggest that in certain situations, such as making or updating a Will, this mindset should be avoided. It is also important to choose your executors wisely as they must work together to carry out your final wishes. The job of an executor can be complicated even if your instructions and your property are quite simple and the process can take several months or longer. If your friends or family don’t want to take on the role of executor of your Will you could appoint a professional executor, such as a solicitor or an accountant. However, a professional executor will obviously charge for their services which will be paid for out of your estate.

As well as detailing where you would like your money, property and possessions to go, if you have children under the age of 18, it is also possible to state what should happen to them if you and their other parent or guardian dies. You can nominate a guardian to take care of your children until they turn 18 in your Will. Without a Will, a court nominated guardian will be appointed and may not be the person you would have chosen to look after your children.

Remember, you should review your Will at least every five years and much more frequently if any major life changes such as getting separated or divorced, (re)married, having a child or moving house takes place. Solicitors often advise that the best way to deal with any major life changes is by getting a new will drawn up but it’s also possible to make minor changes (codicils) to your existing will.

It goes without saying that it is extremely important to keep your will in a safe place – either at home, at your solicitors or at your bank (both may charge a small fee for this service) - and you must tell your executors, a close friend or relative where it is stored. If you choose to keep your Will at the bank, remember to let your executors know exactly which branch as this could create confusion if you have accounts with several different banks.

 

Useful Resources

Dying Matters

The Law Society

Law on the Web

Royds Withy King

Age UK

Slee Blackwell Solicitors LLP

This article was written by Fiona Gilbert: Editor
Wise Old Elephant

Hello! I’m Fiona and I work behind the scenes with a fantastic team of independent health, care, legal & financial experts to bring interesting & informative content to the Wise Old Elephant site. Contact: enquiries@wiseoldelephant.co.uk