It’s not uncommon to assume that you don’t need to worry about making a Last Will and Testament until the later stages of life. Some people never consider writing a Will at all.
However, a Will is instrumental for ensuring that your legacy is carried out. It’s key for safeguarding your property and assets, and enabling you to provide legal protection, support and financial provision for your spouse, civil partner or other loved ones in the event of your passing. For these reasons alone, making a Will is something that it’s wise to do sooner rather than later.
Why is it important to make a Will?
There is a wide range of reasons why it’s a good idea to make a Will. The following are amongst the most compelling:
- A Will enables you to appoint an Executor, who can make key decisions concerning your Estate immediately after your death. This can expedite the necessary arrangements, giving your loved ones valuable space and time to properly grieve.
- If you have any children under the age of 16, your Will allows you to nominate their legal Guardians, and make any financial provisions you deem fit. In the event of the death of both parents, you can have complete peace of mind that their future welfare is secure.
- If you have any legal or financial dependants (whether friends or family), your Will enables you to make provisions to bequeath an appropriate part of your Estate.
- You may also be able to save your family from paying unnecessary Inheritance Tax through certain provisions in your Will.
Through a properly drawn up Will, you can ensure that your wishes are recorded and communicated in a clear, effective and legally valid way, so that your Estate is passed on to your intended Beneficiaries in the manner that you desire.
It also allows you to properly account for all assets you own, including personal possessions, cash, bank accounts, investments, pensions and property. Without a Will, these will be divided up according to the rules of intestacy.
What is Intestacy?
Intestacy law sets out the standard legally binding rules by which your Estate will be divided if you die without leaving a valid Will. Crucially, it allows your Estate to pass on to your spouse and blood relatives. In England and Wales, this includes your spouse and children (including any that you’ve legally adopted), your siblings (including half siblings if you only have a single parent in common), as well as your uncles and aunts (full blood or half blood) and your parents and grandparents.
Intestacy requires an Administrator to act on behalf of your estate, and may require a ‘Letter of Administration’ to act as proof that they have the legal right to deal with the Estate.
However, it does not legally recognise step children, and it has stricter requirements for unmarried cohabitees to become Beneficiaries than it does for surviving spouses. This means that if you are not married to your partner at the time of your death, they may find it more difficult to become Beneficiaries of your Estate than other blood relatives, such as your children or siblings, and be denied certain assets as a result.
In these sorts of scenarios, it’s not uncommon for this to cause financial hardship and distress for the loved ones concerned. What’s more, it may even mean that parts of your Estate may pass to family members with whom you may be estranged, or others who you would not knowingly choose to benefit with your assets. Finally, intestacy does not always distribute assets in the most tax efficient way, which means that it’s less likely to be the most preferable way of dividing up your Estate.
A properly drafted Will mitigates the risks of these sorts of scenarios. A professional specialist probate Solicitor can ensure that your wishes are honoured to the letter, and that you can clearly identify the intended Beneficiaries of your Estate beyond all legal doubt.
Why use a Solicitor to write your Will?
Employing a professional Solicitor with the relevant skills and expertise is the safest and most reliable way to ensure that your wishes are recorded and carried out to the letter. Crucially, a Solicitor can help you to ensure that there is no doubt surrounding who should benefit from your Estate, and to what extent.
A Solicitor like a member of our team here at Farleys can also help you deal with any complicating factors which may have arisen from your individual family situation, or relating to your assets. Second marriages, for example, can often give rise to complex legal dilemmas concerning spouses and children, so a Solicitor can help you to navigate the challenges that these scenarios present, enabling you to reach a satisfactory outcome.
Similarly, it’s best to consult a professional Solicitor if your case involves complicated assets like businesses, overseas properties, or multiple investments like bonds, pensions, stocks or ISAs. This is because only your known assets will be divided when apportioning your Estate, so a Solicitor can help you to ensure that none are unintentionally omitted (which can sometimes prevent your chosen Beneficiaries from claiming them).
During our Estate Planning Service, we’ll take the time to go through the entire probate process with you, including your assets and intended Beneficiaries, so that we can devise an inheritance solution that works for you.
We also draw upon decades of specialist expertise to provide tailored advice on the most efficient way to account for Inheritance Tax through the provisions in your Will.
What is a DIY Will and should I use one?
A ‘DIY Will’ can sometimes be downloaded from less scrupulous vendors on the internet – often at suspiciously low prices – and generally takes the form of a generic, cookie-cutter document. Unfortunately, these often create more problems than they solve.
This is because the average DIY Will typically contains a broad range of unpredictable flaws and shortcomings, which can pose serious issues in an area where even the slightest ambiguity can result in long, protracted legal battles. Some of these flaws include (but aren’t limited to):
- The failure to ensure your instructions are properly carried out
- The omission of certain assets of yours (whether physical or financial)
- The failure to account for situations in which the Executor or Beneficiary dies before the person making the Will
- The failure to properly account for current and relevant Inheritance Tax regulations
This is just a sample of the most serious – there can potentially be a lot more! For these reasons alone, it’s crucial to make sure that your Will is prepared and regularly updated by a qualified professional Solicitor. This can avoid any unnecessary confusion, minimise disputes, and ensure that your legacy is carried out exactly as you intend.