A will makes it easier for your family and friends to sort everything out when you pass away. Without a will this can be much more time consuming and stressful.
If you do not make a will, everything that you own will be shared out in the standard way defined by the law. This is called dying intestate and the ‘next of kin’ rules will kick in, following the line of your family tree – this often isn’t the way that you want.
A will can help to reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that might be payable on any Property and other assets that you leave behind.
Writing a will is particularly important if you have children or other family who might depend on you financially, or if you wish to leave something to those outside of your immediate family.
Your will tells people three very important things:
1. Who should inherit your money, property and possessions when you die;
2. Who should oversee organising your estate and administering your wishes; and
3. You decide who will take care of your minor children.
You can also use a will to tell people about any other wishes that you may have such as funeral wishes.
A will allows you to make an informed decision about who should take care of your minor children. Without a will the court will take it upon themselves to choose among your family members or a state-appointed guardian. Having a will allows you to appoint the person you want to raise your children, or better, make sure that it is not someone who you do not want to raise your children.
Your will is valid if it says how your estate should be shared when you die; was made when you were able to make your own decisions and you were not put under pressure to leave things to certain people; and is signed, dated and witnessed.
Contrary to popular belief, all estates must go through probate with or without a will. Having a will, however, speeds up the probate process and informs the court how you would like your estate to be divided. Probate courts serve the purpose of ‘administering your estate’, and when you die without a will (known as dying ‘intestate’), the court will decide how to divide your estate without your input, causing long, unnecessary delays.
If you die without a will, part or all of your estate may pass to someone you did not intend. For example, one case involved the estate of a deceased son who was awarded over £1 million from a wrongful death lawsuit. When the son died, the son’s father – who has not been a part of his son’s life for over 32 years – inherited the entire estate, leaving relatives and siblings out of the picture.
How should I go about making a will?
You should start by thinking about what you might want to leave to who and consider talking to members of your family. This will allow you to consider your options for making a will.
While you are planning your will you might consider your priorities and goals in making a will. Many people make a will for the following reasons:
1. Supporting a charity that you care about;
2. Making sure that your spouse is provided for;
3. Looking after a relative with an illness or disability; and/or
4. Ensuring that your grandchildren receive a headstart in life.
Once you have decided what you wish to achieve it will be much easier for you to decide what to leave to who.
It is important to consider making a list of who you want to benefit from your estate, be it friends, charities, your partner/spouse, children and other family members. These people will be your beneficiaries.
There are then a number of ways that you can get a will written.
The best option depends on how complicated your wishes are. If your circumstances are simple, using a solicitor can cost as little as £150. This will vary depending on whether you wish to use trusts or severing tenancies in order to deal with your estate.
There are a number of items that are not covered by the instructions in a wall. These items include community property, proceeds from life-insurance policy payouts, retirement assets, assets owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, and investment accounts that are designated as ‘transfer on death’.
What happens if you do not have a will?
If you do not have a will you die ‘intestate’. In this case the state will oversee the distribution of assets. Contrary to popular opinion, the state does not inherit your assets, but rather distributes them according to a set formula.
Generally, procrastination and the unwillingness to accept death as part of life are common reasons for not having a will. Sometimes the realization that wills are necessary comes too late – such as when an unexpected death or disability occurs. To avoid the added stress on families during an already emotional time, it may be wise to meet with an estate planning lawyer to help you draw up a basic estate plan at the minimum, before its too late.
There are many reasons to write a will, but how to begin the process can be the most complicated factor. While knowing the law is key, there are legal experts out there ready to help you implement your wishes.