Why you need to make a will… right now

Have you made a will? Or have you thought about making a will? Perhaps it’s on your to-do list, but keeps getting shunted aside in favour of the grocery shopping and other everyday tasks.

post-it note with 'make a will' on itBecause you need the food shopping today, and making a will – well, you have plenty of time, surely?

And there we have it. No one knows. Of course nobody wants to think about dying, let alone actually talk about it and think about what will happen after they’re gone. For some people, it can be a case of head in the sand, worry about it another day.

But making a will is nothing to worry about. It doesn’t mean you’re going to die tomorrow. What it does mean is that when you do die, your family will be looked after in the way you want and your possessions and property will go to those you choose. It also means that you can express your wishes as to whether you want to be buried or cremated.

Without a will it all starts to get much more complicated.

The fact is, many people don’t even think about making a will until they’re over 50, and even then they often need a trigger, such as their own parents dying intestate (without a will) and realising the problems it can cause.

The sad case of the late singer Prince is testament to this. He is believed not to have made a will, which is likely to lead to all kinds of problems managing his estate and his business interests.

So yes, you need to put some time aside to sort out a will.

How to go about making a will:

Start with a questionnaire or checklist. This will help you think about your priorities, such as who will look after your children. It can also help you think about things you may not have considered, such as who will inherit if your children don’t survive you.

Appoint executors – with their permission. This is the person (or persons) who will manage your estate after you die. Acting as an executor is a big responsibility. When you’ve decided who you’d like to ask, make sure they’re genuinely willing to do it and know exactly what their responsibilities will be.

Think carefully about gifts. Leaving a specific item to someone seems like a lovely idea, but ask yourself if they’ll really want it?

I once had a client who wanted to leave a grand piano that had been in her family for several generations to her only surviving relative who was a nephew living in Australia. I explained to her that the shipping costs would far exceed the value of the piano and the nephew might not have room for the instrument, but she insisted she wanted to leave it to him. When she died the nephew was less than enthusiastic about the gift and the cost of getting it transported down under.

Consider consulting a solicitor. You can download forms or pick them up at the Post Office. And I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t. But you should be aware that if you do this, it carries a risk and you could be gambling with your loved ones’ futures. A solicitor will take a holistic approach, looking at your family background, previous relationships, ambitions for your children, your fears for the future… it’s not just about your assets and income.

Family dynamics are often complex, and a solicitor can help you plough through the minefield of permutations. So they can advise on how your spouse/partner’s remarriage or new relationship could affect your children’s inheritance rights; how you can make sure a disabled relative can be cared for after your death; the impact of inheritance tax on your estate; and how to make sure money for underage children is properly invested.

Be wise about when to make your will. You can make one as soon as you turn 18, but you really should think about it if you have a birth, death or marriage in your family, or after any major life event like retiring or moving abroad.

Don’t be put off by the legal process. It is fairly straightforward, but a will is not – and shouldn’t be – like popping into a fast food restaurant for a burger. It is one of the most important legal documents you’ll ever enter into. It has a profound effect on your family and potentially deals with hundreds of thousands of pounds of assets.

This is why I recommend legal advice from professionals who have specialist qualifications and years of experience in advising on wills and probate matters.

Look at quality before cost. Your first question to a solicitor should be “What is the quality of service you offer?” not “How much does it cost?” Of course it’s a good idea to shop around, but don’t make cost your only criteria. Many solicitors offer fixed fees for wills, but they need to know what they are quoting for, especially if you have complex finances.

Store your will carefully. Obviously you need to keep it somewhere safe where it can be easily found. Unfortunately many wills go missing every year and if no will can be found, your estate will be administered as if you never made one. Which could mean someone losing out on an inheritance.

Once your will has been signed, it’s important to register it – this will help your family locate your will. There are several will registers where the details of a person’s will can be recorded which enables the family to carry out a search if they are unable to locate the person’s will after they have died. The register most solicitors use is called the Certainty National Will Register.

Barker Evans is a member of the Certainty National Will Register and as a result we can offer will registration at half the price they charge the public. We also store wills free of charge.

Where there isn’t a will…

It’s so easy to assume things will just automatically work themselves out, but this absolutely isn’t the case. One of the saddest stories I know involves the family of a taxi driver, who bought a new taxi and paid for it using a second mortgage on his house – which he took with a less-reputable company.

He died in a road traffic accident without leaving a will. He and his partner were not married so she couldn’t inherit from him under the intestacy rules because unmarried partners are excluded. Their young children were only four and two years old. The house was in her dead partner’s sole name and the mortgage company wouldn’t allow his partner to take over the mortgage because she had not inherited the house and she was on benefits. For two years she fought against repossession proceedings but eventually lost the house and the taxi cab.

It’s a sad and thought-provoking story. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Get yours sorted, registered and stored… then you can get on with enjoying the rest of your life.

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Useful information on end of life planning here: Dying Matters 

Rosamund Evans

About Rosamund Evans

I’m the founder and principal solicitor of Barker Evans Private Client Law. When I started my own law practice I wanted to make it easier for my clients to get the help they need at a price they can afford and in a way that makes them feel comfortable and fully supported. You can access a variety of legal advice on my website, plus how-to guides and blogs.