As you approach the final years of your life, it becomes more important than ever to plan for the future. Ensuring you have written a comprehensive will to cater for the future needs of your family can give you the peace of mind to enjoy the time you have left.
However, for many, the prospect of writing a will may seem daunting. For example, they may be unwilling to think about their own mortality, or struggle to understand the legal processes involved in creating an authoritative will that covers everything it needs to include; as a result, many end up putting off writing their will, potentially until it is too late.
In order to help demystify some of this complexity, the legal experts at Ramsdens Solicitors have put together a simple guide to will writing, giving you all the basics you will need to know to take this important step.
Why is it so important to make a will?
Writing a will is the best way to ensure that your possessions and wealth are distributed according to your wishes after you die. If you do not have a valid will, this decision will be taken out of your family’s hands.
Dying without a will means that your estate will be divided up according to the ‘rules of intestacy’, giving the government control over who is in charge of administering and benefiting from your estate. This may mean, for example, that loved ones who are not directly related to you – such as stepchildren and unmarried partners – have no right to claim any inheritance, or that you will have no say in who looks after any young children you leave behind.
Dying intestate can also result in your family facing a large Inheritance Tax bill, or lead to legal conflicts with estranged partners over jointly-owned properties. By writing a will, you can ensure that you and your family are able to avoid all of this stress.
How can I make a will that is legally valid?
Making a legally binding will is relatively simple. The document does not need to conform to a particular format, and will be considered legally valid as long as you meet the following criteria:
- The document is made out in writing
- You are aged 18 or over at the time of writing the will
- The will has been made voluntarily, and you can show that you are of sound mind to do so
- You have signed the document in the presence of two witness over the age of 18, and who are not listed as beneficiaries in the will
- The two witnesses have also signed the document in your presence
It is important to ensure that you have not broken any of these rules, as this could result in the entire will being invalidated, which means your wishes will not be carried out after you die.
What should be included in a will?
The contents of a will are likely to differ depending on your specific needs and life circumstances, but as a rule, you should always consider the following when thinking about what should be included:
- You should select and name all the parties that you wish to receive a share of your estate after you die, including family members, friends and charity organisations
- You should name one or more executors of your estate, who will be responsible for sorting out your affairs and carrying out the instructions left in your will after you die
- You must specify who will be responsible for looking after any of your children who are still under the age of 18
- You should provide details of what should happen if any of the intended beneficiaries of your will die before you
When thinking about what kind of provisions your will should contain, you must consider all of your various possessions and make sure you have left behind instructions for every asset that is important to you. Examples include:
- Wealth, material possessions, family heirlooms and items of sentimental value
- Houses and other properties, including those that are jointly owned with someone else
- Business assets, including stocks, shares and ownership stakes
- Pets – money cannot be left to an animal directly, so you will need to appoint someone to look after the pet, along with money to be used for their care
- Assets and properties held overseas
- Digital assets, including virtual currency and instructions on accessing any online accounts you would like to be retained or deleted after your death
This is not a complete list, so to avoid missing anything out, it may be a good idea to seek professional advice to help you ensure your will is as thorough as possible.
How often should I update my will?
Once you have written your will, it should be kept in a secure location, such as in a safe at home or with a solicitor or bank. However, it should not simply be left there and forgotten about, as it is also important to keep your will regularly updated.
As a general rule, it is a good idea to review the contents of your will every five years or so to make sure everything is still up to date. You should also update your will immediately if something major changes in your life, such as:
- You get married, separated or divorced
- You have a new child
- You move house or purchase a new property
- The executor of the will or any of the main beneficiaries dies before you
Do I need professional help to write a will?
Many people prefer to write their will with support and advice from a qualified solicitor. Getting expert guidance can help you ensure you do not miss out anything important, make a mistake that invalidates the will, or leave ambiguous instructions that could lead to a legal conflict between beneficiaries.
Getting professional advice is particularly important if there are complicated aspects to your situation, such as:
- You live in a shared property with someone who is not your spouse or civil partner
- You have business assets that are complex to pass on
- You wish to set up a trust or a specific flexible provision – for example, if you want to withhold a child’s inheritance until they reach the age of 18
- You have assets and properties outside the UK, meaning they are subject to overseas laws
By working with a solicitor to write your will in such circumstances, you can make sure the wording of the document is as precise as it needs to be to properly convey your wishes.
For those who have been putting off writing a will, now is the time to act. If handled correctly, the will writing process can be relatively straightforward, and the benefits it provides in terms of safeguarding the long-term future of your family can be beyond measure.
Many thanks to Jodie Wielgus at Ramsdens Solicitors