Making a Will
What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that sets out who will inherit your estate and what should happen after you die.
It might include:
- Who will deal with your estate (Executors)
- What sort of funeral you would like
- Financial gifts you would like to make
- How you would like your possessions to be distributed
- Who should bring up your children, if you have them (Guardians)
- What should happen with your pets, if you have them
- Gifts to charities
- What happens to the residue of your estate
A correctly drawn Will is a legally binding document – but if you don’t prepare it properly, it may not be valid.
You can write a Will yourself, but if you have a complicated estate, or simply want help, you can enlist the support of a solicitor or expert will-writer. It’s estimated that around 60% of people don’t have Wills. If you die without one, your estate will be distributed according to strict rules (Intestacy), meaning the people you care about may lose out.
Why make a Will?
Twelve reasons to make a Will:
1. Don't leave it too late
Make a Will while you have mental capacity, don’t leave it too late.
2. For your children or grandchildren
Ensure your children or grandchildren are provided for financially. This might include putting aside money for education, a set amount each year for clothing or hobbies, or establishing a nest egg to buy a home. You may wish to consider setting up a trust to provide for your children, as this gives you an element of control over when your children or grandchildren receive the money, and what it gets used for. There are two ways to set up a trust: you can either establish it while you are still alive, or leave instructions for it to be established by your Will when you pass away.
3. Provide for other dependents
Provide for your dependents, including stepchildren. Your stepchildren may be a big part of your life, or even be your only children, but the law states that only spouses or blood relatives can automatically inherit if there is no Will. If you want to provide for your stepchildren, you’ll need to write a Will that includes them. The same goes for foster children, or any other dependents who may rely on you for support.
4. Protect your partner
Protect your partner if you’re unmarried. Unmarried partners aren’t entitled to anything from your estate unless specifically stated in your Will – no matter how long you’ve been together. Writing a Will ensures your partner will receive their fair share of your estate.
5. Safeguard your home
Safeguard your family home. If the family home is in your name, your unmarried partner and stepchildren aren’t automatically in line to inherit it if you die without a Will – meaning they may lose their home. You can leave them a share of the property in your Will, or a right to reside in the property.
6. Head off family disputes
Head off family disputes. If there is no Will or your wishes aren’t made clear then dividing up an estate can sadly sometimes lead to squabbles and arguments among your survivors. Contested Wills can be damaging to relationships among your family, and can be expensive if decisions about your estate are legally contested. A well-prepared Will can help avoid these arguments, and avoid making your passing even more stressful for your survivors.
7. Reduce inheritance tax
Avoid paying more inheritance tax than you need to. The amount of inheritance tax that will be charged from your estate depends on how much you have, and also who you leave it to. Anything left to your spouse or civil partner will be automatically exempt from inheritance tax. Leaving property to your children and grandchildren is also likely to generate a lower inheritance tax bill than leaving it to others. Get good professional advice on inheritance tax planning.
8. If you're recently married
Create a legal Will if you’re recently married. When you marry, your existing Will automatically becomes invalid in England and Wales. According to the rules of intestacy, this means your estate could end up split between your new partner and children from a previous marriage, potentially causing arguments. In Scotland, on the other hand, prior Wills are not automatically invalidated by marriage – so if you die, your new spouse may not inherit anything if your old Will doesn’t include them. Getting divorced doesn’t override your Will, meaning your ex-partner may still be in line to inherit from your estate. Assets held in foreign jurisdictions may be subject to other rules of inheritance. So, it makes sense to regularly review your Will so it still reflects your situation, particularly after a marriage or separation, or any other life event such as buying or selling property, or receiving an inheritance.
9. Choose who settles your affairs
Decide who you would like to settle your affairs. Your Will usually names an executor, or multiple executors, who will be in charge of carrying out your final wishes. Choosing your executor in advance allows you to select the best person for the task. It also gives the executor prior warning so they can prepare themselves.
10. For your pets
Say who you want to look after your pets If you have dogs, cats, or any other pets, they may also need to be looked after if you pass away. You could choose someone to look after them and put some money aside to feed them and look after their health.
11. Protect your digital assets
Protect your digital assets. Nowadays, your assets won’t just include money in the bank and physical goods. Digital accounts and online purchases, such as music, photographs, or websites, also form part of your possessions and can disappear into the void if you don’t account for them in your Will. Things like emails and social media accounts also form part of your legacy – do you want the information destroyed, protected, and do you need to make passwords available to your executor?
12. Support a Charity
If you support a charity, you may wish to leave something for it when you pass away. As well as supporting a good cause, you could potentially reduce the amount of inheritance tax paid by your family if you leave more than 10% of your assets to a good cause.
When should you make a new Will?
As you move through life your circumstances change, as do the potential risks and complications when you pass away. You should consider making a new Will:
- When you have concerns about your health or mental capacity;
- When you have an unmarried partner who should inherit from your estate;
- When you get married, and your old Will is invalidated (in England and Wales) or doesn’t include your new spouse (in Scotland);
- When you have a child so that you can appoint a guardian;
- When you buy a property or receive a large windfall;
- If you get divorced, as your previous Will won’t automatically be invalidated;
- When you want to make provisions for step-children, foster children or dependents;
- If your spouse passes away, and your previous Will left the estate to them.
When happens if you die without a Will?
If you die without a Will, your estate will be divided up in line with the rules of intestacy. This means you will have little control over who receives your estate.
Make sure your Will is valid
A Will that isn’t properly signed and witnessed is invalid.
If you’re not sure whether your Will is valid, check with a solicitor practicing under the relevant country’s law.