Making a Will lets you decide what happens to your property and assets after you die. While it’s perfectly possible to buy one ‘off the shelf’, a Will is a highly personal document, with potentially far-reaching effects on the people closest to you.
There’s no law that says you have to make a Will. But if you die without one (known as an intestacy) those left behind can have huge legal problems to deal with:
- Without a Will, the law decides who inherits your estate. Children, grandchildren, charities and others you’d hoped would benefit may receive nothing at all
- In some circumstances, complex trusts may have to be created, involving time, expense
- If you’re not married, your partner has no automatic right to inherit your estate. Without a Will, they may have to take legal action to receive any benefit. And even if you ARE married, under the intestacy laws your spouse may not necessarily inherit your whole estate
Some people think they’re not wealthy enough to need a Will. But by the time you’ve totted up the value of your house and its contents, your car, any insurance policies, pensions and investments, and you’ll probably find you’re worth more than you thought!
By making a Will, you can
- Decide exactly who gets what
- Choose your own executors (the people who’ll deal with your assets after you die)
- Appoint guardians to look after children under 18
- Make gifts of money or property to people or charities
- Specify any particular funeral wishes you may have
- Set up trusts to provide for young children or a disabled person, or to protect your assets in a particular way after you die
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document that lets you specify who should benefit from your property, money and possessions after your death.
Do I need a Will?
If you die without a Will in England or Wales, your estate will be distributed by the laws of Intestacy. This includes a set list of people who will benefit from your estate and this is not necessarily who you may want.
What are Executors?
Executors are the people you chose who will carry out your wishes after your death. They areresponsible for sorting out your affairs, including arranging your funeral, dealing with tax bills, paying off debts and distributing your estate to your beneficiaries.
An executor can also be a beneficiary of your Will. Anyone who is over 18 years old can take this role. It is important to consider who you trust, and who is willing and able to take on this responsibility.
It is advisable to have more than one executor as this acts as a safeguard in case one of the Executors is unable to act. You can also have professional executors, but they will usually charge a fee for this service.
Many people chose to have professional executors because they do not want their families to deal with the legal and financial responsibilities after your death.
I have young children; what happens to them if I die?
If you have parental responsibility over your children and they are under 18 then you can appoint a Guardian to look after your children until they reach 18. This will only take effect if there is no one else with parental responsibility over your children when you die.
Your children can be included in your Will. It is a good idea to consider the age you would like your children to reach before they inherit. This is usually 18,21 or 25 years old.
While they are underage, their inheritance is looked after and managed on their behalf by ‘Trustees’. You can appoint Trustees in your Will, and they are usually the same people as your Executors.
We are unmarried and co habiting; what happens to us?
Unmarried partners and co-habitees have no automatic entitlement to any of the estate of the surviving partner. You need to make a Will to protect your interests.
If you have children, they will inherit everything equally.
If you have no children, your estate will pass to your parents if they are alive.
If they are not alive, then your estate will pass to your siblings and then your nephews and nieces.
Your partner may be able to make a claim if they were financially dependent on you.
Who can be a witness to your Will?
A beneficiary in the Will cannot witness you signing your Will, nor can the spouse or civil partner of the beneficiary. They will be disinherited if they do. Your witness should be independent and over the age of 18.
I own property overseas- is it covered in my Will?
If your assets are held overseas, then it may be necessary for your Will to be valid for other countries as well and you may have to consider the laws of that country.
When should I change my Will?
You may want to revisit and change your Will when your family circumstances change. For example, when you marry, separate from your partner, when you get divorced or when a baby or grandchild is born.
Is my Will still valid after my divorce?
Yes, it is, however, your ex-spouse will be treated as if they died before you, so any gifts left to them will fail and they cannot act as executor. This is only once you have received the Decree Absolute. It is advisable that you make a new Will once you know that the split is going to permanent.
I'm shielding or self-isolating; can I still make a Will?
We have seen a huge increase in the number of people making Wills during the pandemic, but our biggest challenge has been to follow the legal procedure of having the Will signing witnessed by 2 independent people, this has been particularly hard for those people shielding or self-isolating.
The good news is that the Law in England and Wales has been temporarily amended so that the witnesses can be ‘present’ via video link.
If you are shielding or self-isolating and would like to make a Will, please do get in touch and we can arrange video and telephone appointments.
A Will is a highly personal, as well as important, document. We’ll spend time getting to know you and your circumstances, then draw up a Will that reflects your true wishes and intentions.
A Will isn’t a once-and-for-all document: we recommend you review your Will every few years as a matter of course, and following any major life event (marriage, divorce, birth of a child) or change in your circumstances.
We will also store your completed Will securely and free of charge as part of our service.