• Anna Kmiec

The Importance of making a Will

Updated: Jan 6

Making a will is something that most of us think about doing, but with the hustle and bustle of daily life, rarely get around to it.

You may think there’s no point because you don’t have any assets to hand down. But wills can do so much more. They can detail the sort of funeral you would like, or if you have children under 18, who should bring them up. Of course, you can also state how you would like your belongings distributed too.

If you die without having made a will, your assets (commonly referred to as an “estate”) will be distributed according to the strict rules of intestacy. This may mean the people you care about could lose out.

Making a will is a scary prospect. After all, we are talking about what is going to happen when we are no longer here: who should get your hard-earned assets or look after the children. There’s no sugar coating it, making a will is likely to be one of the most emotionally difficult things you will have to do. But once it is done, you can relax safely knowing that you have given your family peace of mind and less to deal with after you have gone.

At what age should I make a will?

To make a legally valid will, you must be 18 years or older, although there are exceptions for those on active military service.

Many people decide to leave making a will until they are older and have accumulated assets, such as a house and savings. The average age for people in the UK to make a will is 58, but it is not something that we should put on the back burner indefinitely. Although we all wish for a long and healthy life, none of us know what is around the corner, so it is always better to be prepared.

In most cases, making a will is often dictated by events in our lives. Certain life events such as getting married, having children or buying a new or larger home drive us to think more about planning for the future. These are important milestones which make us stop and think about the practicalities of our lives. So rather than thinking about making a will when you reach a particular age, it is better to look towards life stages and events when having an up to date will becomes important, and in most cases, essential.

Naming a children’s guardian

It may come as a surprise, but you can state in your will who should look after your children or dependents if you die and they are under 18. You can also appoint a legal guardian. This may be the other parent, or their grandparents, for example. You may have named friends or other family members to be your children’s godparents, but this is not legally binding, and godparents do not have any legal rights.

For new parents, making a will is probably the last thing on your mind. But it is part of the responsibility you have towards your children.

Parents who die without making a will are likely to leave their family in uncertain circumstances and potential financial jeopardy. It may even result in the family courts becoming involved and choosing someone to look after them you would not agree with.

Writing the best will for your children

  • Appoint a guardian

You should reflect on who you would want to look after the children if you or your partner were to die. Failure to pick a guardian will result in your local authority deciding. And whilst they tend to prefer immediate family, this does not automatically happen.

The appointment of a guardian ends automatically when your children reach 18. Most people usually nominate more than one guardian, or at least a substitute, in case the first is unwilling or unable to take on the role. A brief word about age — whilst it may be a tremendous idea to make the children’s grandparents their guardians, they may not be able to take on the role (as much as they would like to) if their increasing years prevent it.

As stated above, godparents do not have any legal rights. If you wish godparents to look after your children if you die, you must name them as guardians in your will

  • Set out a plan for your children’s finances

Consider how you can make arrangements to cover the expenses of raising the children. We all know bringing up kids is an expensive game, so you should think about how your estate can cover these costs. When making a will, you should feel confident that you have done all you can to ensure your estate will provide for your partner, children, and any other people who may bring them up after your death.

  • Providing for step-children and other dependents

Step-children will not automatically inherit from your estate unless you make a specific provision for them in your will. This is also the case for other children you may care for, such as foster children, as well as any other adults that depend on you.

  • Trusts, pensions or life insurance

If you have a pension scheme, life insurance policy or any other type of asset held in trust, they will not automatically be passed down in a will. If you want your children to benefit from any of these assets, you will need to contact each provider individually and nominate your children as beneficiaries.

  • Decide on the age they will inherit

Unless your will states otherwise, your children will automatically receive access to their inheritance at 18 (although this is set at 17 in Scotland). Before this age, your children can still benefit from the estate but cannot manage it personally. The assets are held on trust and managed for the benefit of your children by a trustee.

For example, your child may receive an allowance from a cash fund but cannot withdraw money without the consent of the trustee. You may think that 18 is too young to be financially responsible; if so, you can set a higher age or put conditions on access. Many people opt for 21, and some even older than that.

  • Appointing trustees

To manage a trust, you will need to nominate a person you trust to act as the trustee. You should choose someone you believe will be the best person to safeguard the children’s assets and help plan for their future, because the trustee is in control of your children’s finances.

Choosing only one trustee is not a particularly good idea. This is because there is a risk that person could not be around, which means that rules dictate who will be appointed. The rules give priority to family members, so there is a real chance the person who is chosen may not be who you would prefer.

  • Consider family heirlooms

You may wish to consider making specific legacies to ensure particular items are passed on to your children, rather than divided amongst other family members ad hoc.

Steps towards making a will

Step one: List all your debts (if you have any) and your assets.

Step two: Decide who you would like to leave your assets to.

Step three: If you can name a beneficiary, for example, in a life insurance policy, or pension, you should contact the provider and do that immediately.

Step four: Make a list of your personal effects (such as jewellery, or furniture, for example) and who you would like to leave them to.

Step five: Decide who you will nominate to act as guardians for any children under the age of 18, and any other or adult dependents.

Step six: Contact a will writer or lawyer and arrange a consultation. As part of our transparent fee structure, this is included in the cost of the will.

Step seven: After you have approved your will, and it has been validly executed, you should arrange for it to be properly stored. You should also be provided with copies of the executed will for your own records.

Step eight: You should inform the executor (the person who legally fulfils your will’s wishes and obligations) of the will’s location. It is a good idea to let the executor know you have named them as such; you may even decide to give them a copy of the will.

Step nine: Make a note in your calendar to briefly review your will to see if you need to make any changes.

Making a new will if you marry or enter into a civil partnership

If you marry or enter into a civil partnership, any existing will you have made is automatically revoked. After marrying, you should ensure you make a new will to ensure your wishes are carried out.

As an alternative, if you are planning to marry shortly after making or reviewing a will, you can include a clause stating you anticipate marrying your named fiancée, and that the will is to have effect both before and after the marriage.

Reviewing a will

Life and circumstances constantly change, so it is important to keep your will up to date to accommodate this. Reviewing your will, every two or three years for example, will give you an opportunity to consider whether your finances have changed, the people you have nominated to look after your children are still suitable, or the will still reflects your family’s situation.

The pitfalls of Do-it-yourself and online Wills

Over recent years, the trend for do-it-yourself or using online will writing companies has increased. Buying a DIY kit from WHSmith or Rymans might seem appealing, but it is very often a false economy and easily results in either a document not doing what you intended it to do or being completely invalid.

An experienced will writer or lawyer will ensure your wishes are reflected and they can also advise you on any inheritance tax issues and how any liability can be reduced. They will also make sure the will is written in a tax efficient way, ensuring any exemptions able to be claimed on death are not lost because of poor wording.

If your will has been improperly worded, it may be that not all your estate is covered. In these cases, a partial intestacy will have occurred and the rules of intestacy will apply. This could result in those inheriting part of your estate where otherwise they would have received nothing.

Another problematic area is that of execution. This relates to the signing and witnessing of the will. Wills must be signed in a particular way; for example, a witness cannot be a beneficiary in the will otherwise it will be deemed invalid. Getting professional advice will help you avoid all these issues.

Storing a will safely

The original version of a will is the only legally binding version. Photocopies, scanned originals, and computer documents are not legally valid because they do not contain your original signature.

Although there is no legal requirement where you must deposit or store your will, some places are better than others. You should be extremely careful if you decide to keep your original will at home. If there is a fire, flood or burglary, for example, you risk losing your will. If a will is damaged in any way, the court may declare it invalid. In addition, if your family or executors cannot find the will after your death, then your wishes may not be followed, and the people you wished to inherit your estate might not do so.

There are various ways to store your will. For a small fee, you can lodge your will with the Probate Service, which is operated by the government. Your solicitor or bank will offer to store a will for free or at low cost. Here at Citywide Wills we offer a will storage service. The benefits are that we understand the content of your will and can provide FREE probate advice and guidance.

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