Your will tells everyone what should happen to your money, possessions and property – your estate – after you die. If you don’t leave a will, the law decides how your estate is passed on – and this may not be in line with your wishes.
There is a common misconception that if, for instance, you are married with children, your estate will automatically go to your spouse in its entirety. But without a will, that’s not strictly true because your children have their rights enshrined in law and the situation can vary depending on the amounts you have left behind.
Many people still cite the concept of “common law” marriage, but in reality this doesn’t actually exist, so if you die without a will (‘intestate’ as it is legally known) a partner who you are not married to or don’t have a civil partnership with, would have no automatic rights to you estate.
Reasons to have a will
1. A will makes it much easier for your family or friends to sort everything out when you die – without a will, the process can be more time-consuming and stressful at an already difficult time.
2. If you don’t write a will, everything you own will be shared out in a standard way defined by the law, which isn’t always the way you might want.
3. A will can help reduce the amount of inheritance tax that may be payable on the value of the property and money you leave behind.
4. Writing a will is especially important if you have children or other family who depend on you financially, or if you want to leave something to people outside of your immediate family.
Your will tells people two very important things:
– Who should have your money, property and possessions when you die
– Who will be in charge of organising your estate and following the instructions you leave in your will (this person is called your ‘executor’, and you can name more than one person if you want to).
– You can also use your will to tell people about any other wishes you have, like instructions for your burial or cremation. Your executor will do their best to make sure your wishes are followed, as long as they don’t involve breaking the law.
– It might not always be possible to follow your instructions (for example, a person you want to leave something to might die before you do), but if you have a will, there’s a better chance of things happening the way you want.
Your will doesn’t have to be on special paper or use a lot of legal language. A document is a valid will as long as it:
– Says how your estate should be shared out when you die.
– Is signed and dated by you in the presence of two witnesses, and then signed by the two witnesses in your presence – the witnesses can’t be people who are going to inherit anything from you (or their husband/wife or civil partner).
– Was made when you were able to make your own decisions and you weren’t put under pressure about who to leave things to.
If your family is quite small and you want to leave everything to them, making your will should be quite straightforward.
If your situation is more complicated (for example, if you have a second family or you want to leave money and gifts to lots of people), you may need to plan more carefully. Either way, don’t put it off – make sure that what you leave behind passes to the people you intended.
Start by thinking about what you want to leave to who and then talk to your family – they may have some suggestions you haven’t thought of. Once you have a plan, look at the different options for making a will.
To arrange a review of your finances or discuss specific estate planning, visit www.robertnicholas.co.uk or contact us 01952 820155 for a chat.