Wills and Probate Solicitor, Jessica Woolfenden, explains why making a Will is crucial. Our Wills and Probate team are available on 01225 755656. Alternatively, you can email them, or complete the contact form at the foot of this page.
This is a surprisingly common question, and of course, as a Wills and Probate specialist, you will not be surprised at my answer. However, let me explain why making a Will is so crucial.
Planning for life
While most of us know that we should make a Will, many people delay because thinking about dying is difficult. But, making a Will is very much about planning for life – ensuring your assets and your family are protected, and your wishes are known and respected.
What happens if I die without a Will?
Even if you think your estate is very simple and straightforward, it’s still important to make a Will. Dying without a Will is referred to as dying ‘intestate’. In that scenario, without a Will setting out your instructions, certain inflexible legal rules (intestacy rules) will dictate how your money, property and possessions are allocated. This may not be the way you would have wished them to be distributed.
When you make a Will, you will be encouraged to consider what should happen to all of your assets and possessions. Knowing that your clear wishes are being followed removes the pressure of decision making from those closest to you at what is likely to be a challenging time.
You will probably want to make some specific gifts of money, possessions or property, typically to family, friends or charities. Everything that remains is referred to as ‘residue’, and you will decide who will receive that or how it will be divided.
Wills and marriage/civil partnership
If you have a partner, but you are not married or in a civil partnership with them, they will not inherit from you. This may create financial problems for them as well as causing friction among those closest to you.
On the other hand, if you have a Will which was made before your marriage or civil partnership, unless the Will expressly says it was made in contemplation of your marriage or civil partnership to your named partner, it will have become invalid immediately upon your marriage or civil partnership. This means that until you make a new Will, you risk dying intestate.
In your Will, you can choose your executors. These are the people who administer your estate, ie ensure your instructions are carried out. If you die intestate, the intestacy rules dictate who can apply to do this.
Reducing Inheritance Tax
With increasingly more people now becoming liable to Inheritance Tax (IHT), careful planning when making your Will can reduce the amount of IHT payable on the property, money and possessions you leave behind.
The law governing administration of estates can in certain respects be relatively inflexible. For that reason, most Wills incorporate at least some administration clauses to provide greater flexibility and discretion for the benefit of both your executors and beneficiaries.
Appointing a guardian in a Will
Many people are unaware that you can use your Will as a way of making arrangements for your children under 18, including appointing one or more guardians to raise them. Parents inevitably find reassurance in being able to this.
Reducing the prospect of challenges
A Will can be a useful tool in reducing the prospect of one or more people making a successful claim against your estate. Similarly, your Will can be used to ‘disinherit’ somebody who may otherwise benefit if you die intestate.
If your Will is drafted by a solicitor, you will be advised on any potential challenges that you should consider.
Changing your Will
Unless you have made ‘Mutual Wills’, which are usually discouraged, as your personal circumstances evolve you can change your Will as often as you like. There are certain situations where you should always consider whether your Will requires amending. Common ones include the birth of a child and divorce/dissolution of a civil partnership.
In addition to these significant life events, we recommend that you revisit your Will at least every five years. Making or reviewing your Will with a solicitor is the best way to ensure that it remains tax efficient and will still achieve your wishes.