No one particularly likes thinking about the time when their will needs to be considered. However, when you own property, land, savings or even items of sentimental value, rather than monetary value, you will need a will. Similarly, if you have private pensions or a business, it’s important to think about what you want to do with these assets, and who will be responsible for administering your estate.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document stating who you leave different parts of your estate to. It allows you to identify an executor who will manage your estate and ensure the people you wish to benefit receive what you’ve set out. Your will is signed by you and two witnesses, which makes it a legal document, and it is more likely your wishes will be carried out. Simply telling people your preferences doesn’t count.
Do I need a will?
Whilst a huge number of people in Britain don’t have a will, it may be more important than you think. The main reasons people cite for not organising their will are that they haven’t gotten around to it and that they don’t think they have anything of value.
Even if you don’t own your own property or have stocks and shares for your loved ones to inherit, you most certainly still have items that will have to be dealt with. Whether that’s your clothing and electronics, to family heirlooms and items of sentimental significance. Things like photo albums, inherited jewellery, or pieces of artwork, even if they don’t have monetary value, may be a gift to a family member or friend.
You can also ensure that you choose an executor who you can trust to carry out your wishes. The executor not only has a lot of paperwork when it comes to closing down accounts and other practical elements, but they are responsible for organising your funeral. If you have preferences about your funeral, they are trusted to carry out your wishes.
One of the most important reasons to have a will is if you have children. Your will allows you to entrust guardianship to the person of your choice, and you can arrange for money or property to be left in a trust until your children grow up.
If you have pets, naming who will look after them ensures they won’t be adopted out, only to be bought back by the relative or friend you intended to look after them. Making this clear in your will solves this problem, and makes sure your loyal friend will be well looked after by someone suitable.
When should I start making a will?
If you're wondering, 'When should I write a will?', the real answer is: the sooner the better.
You can make a will whenever you like, but they’re particularly important after big life events, like getting married, having a baby, or becoming ill. Often people don’t realise that when they marry or remarry, this makes the previous will void, according to the law of intestacy (the estate being inherited by the surviving spouse). So, if you have particular people in mind, it’s important to rewrite your will and update it.
Whilst most people don’t bother if they don’t own property, people are buying houses later in life. That doesn’t mean you should wait until you own a home to make a will. As mentioned, you probably have more than you think.
It’s also important to make a will if you are in a long-term relationship but are unmarried. Whilst if you are married or in a civil partnership, your estate will automatically transfer to your surviving partner, this is not the case if you live together. Whilst buying a property together as joint owners will ensure the other owner receives your share upon your death, if you have bought your property as tenants in common, this will not automatically be the case.
Discuss this with your partner and make clear in your will what you expect your partner to receive.
Most people tend to start thinking about a will if they become ill or are worried about their health. Whilst it is not necessary to wait for the worst to happen, if you are concerned about being mentally capable of writing a will further down the line, it is worth getting it done sooner rather than later. In order to write your will, witnesses will need to determine that you are ‘of sound mind’ and that you aren’t being coerced by another person. If you do become more vulnerable before writing a will, there is a chance it could be contested.
What do I put in a will?
There are lots of things to consider before making your will. Your will covers your estate and how it is organised, but it is much more than who gets what.
- You can be specific about certain items that you wish to go to certain family members or friends.
- You can split your estate between different people.
- You can choose guardians for your children, or for pets.
- You can write your expectations for your funeral.
- You can choose your executor.
Bear in mind that this document is your last will and testament, which is a different legal document to your living will. Your living will covers what your wishes would be if you became incapacitated or seriously ill and could not show this preference yourself. These are two separate documents but they are both incredibly important.
What happens if I don’t write a will?
If you don’t write a will, your preferences will not be taken into account. If you are married, your estate will go to your surviving spouse. If the value of the estate you leave is over £250,000, your spouse will receive the first £250,000, and then half of whatever is leftover. That remaining half will then be split between children or grandchildren.
If you aren’t married but have children, the entirety of your estate will bypass your partner and be left to your children. Unless there is a will, partners who are not married or in civil partnerships are not recognised in the law of intestacy.
If you don’t leave a will, you can’t assign an executor. As such, relatives will have to apply for a grant of representation, or probate, in order to have access to your estate and then to share it fairly. It also means your preferences for your funeral do not have to be taken into account.
What is the cost of making a will?
There are a number of ways to make a will, and some decide to do it themselves. However, often these do not end up being legally binding and when assets and beneficiaries are more complicated, it is worth hiring an experienced solicitor to ensure that your will is airtight and fully reflects your wishes.
The cost will depend on the value of your assets, the number of beneficiaries and how complicated and detailed the will needs to be. A simple will can cost a couple of hundred pounds, but if you have a variety of assets and want to set up trusts, this will be more expensive. Other elements, like being divorced, having overseas property or wanting tax planning advice as part of your will writing service, can increase the price.
How do I update a will?
As we’ve mentioned, it’s important to make sure your will is up to date and correct, especially when there have been big changes in your life.
There are two main ways to change your will. If there are minimal changes or amendments, perhaps including a new grandchild, or including a recently acquired asset, you can make a codicil. This is an amendment document that will be attached to your will. It will need to be witnessed and signed just like your original will and placed with the original document.
If more changes occur, it is best not to have multiple codicils, and instead just have your will rewritten. If the main bulk of organising your assets and affairs has been done, but you simply need to update after the birth of children or grandchildren, or the inclusion of new family members, it makes sense to rewrite your will.
Your beneficiaries may also make changes to your will after you pass away using a deed of variation.
Is my will legally binding?
Hiring a professional solicitor will ensure your will is legally binding, but if you are concerned, you simply have to make sure you sign the will in front of two adult witnesses, and those two witnesses then sign it.
Your will can be contested if it is possible you were not of sound mind when writing the will, or that you may have been coerced in some way. Your will has to be written voluntarily, put in writing and you have to be over 18 to leave a will. However, a person needs good grounds for contesting a will.
At The Law Superstore we have a variety of solicitors who will offer different prices, dependent on your specific circumstances, so you only get quoted for what you need.