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Why you need to write a will and what you need to consider

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If you haven't already recorded your last will and testament, do it now because you never know what tomorrow may bring.

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The impact on your family when you die will be considerable. It is often an incredibly upsetting and stressful time. While your loved ones would give anything to have you back, the next best thing you can do is to ensure they inherit your estate. 

Here we explain what you need to know about wills.

Why do you need a will?

If you die without a will, you will be deemed to have died intestate. Your estate will be dealt with according to a rigid set of Intestacy Laws, which can cause issues for your grieving family.

If you die intestate:

  • You will not have appointed someone you trust as the executor

  • Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit

  • Your family may face a huge tax bill as only the first £325,000 is usually tax-free

  • If there are no surviving relatives the estate passes to the Crown in what is known as bona vacantia

Who can write a will?

  • You: There are plenty of DIY kits available to buy online and in stationary stores. There are also books and websites providing guidance on will writing.

  • Solicitors: Especially if your will is complicated. They hold extensive legal knowledge and can ensure your will is legally valid. They will charge you for their services.

It is advisable to use a solicitor for peace of mind. Poorly drafted or incorrectly witnessed DIY wills can cause more complex problems.

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How to find a solicitor

If you would prefer to employ an expert in will writing, a solicitor is your best bet. However, consider the following before reaching for Yellow Pages or the internet.

  • Work with a solicitor you can trust: Ideally, one that you have used before, or one recommended by friends and family.

  • Contact The Law Society: They represent and regulate solicitors, and maintain a list of all qualified practitioners, which can be found on the Law Society website.

  • Free Wills Month: If you’re 55 or over you could take advantage of Free Wills Month, which is typically held in March and October. This service is available through participating solicitors, who will draft or update wills free of charge.

  • Solicitors’ Code of Conduct: Read the rules and principles of professional conduct for solicitors in the  Solicitors' Code of Conduct, so you know your rights and what to expect from a solicitor.

How much do wills cost?

Solicitors' costs vary from firm to firm. For a simple will, you should expect to pay from around £80 to several hundred pounds, depending on the complexity of the task.

Who should you choose as executor?

Being an executor is a complex and demanding role, often involving large sums of money. Appoint:

  • Someone you trust who is willing to take on the responsibility

  • A substitute executor to give you a backup if your primary executor is unable to take on the role

How to protect your children

Appoint a guardian for children under 18, so they can be taken care of if you die. For unmarried parents, guardianship does not pass to the remaining parent automatically.

Should you set up a trust?

A trust is an arrangement that allows you to transfer your estate to someone you trust whilst you are still alive. Using a trust means that after you die your:

  • Appointed trustee(s) will be in charge of passing your estate on to your beneficiaries

  • Estate does not go through the system of probate that governs the execution of a will

You will need to work with a solicitor to set up a trust, including the appointment of trustees to oversee and maintain your estate until it is passed on to your beneficiaries.

Establishing a trust can be tax efficient, especially for married couples looking to provide for their children in the event of their deaths. For example, if you and your spouse or civil partner both die, leaving a child or children under 18, they won’t be subject to tax or charges. 

However, don’t assume this is always the case, as assets in the trust could be subject to inheritance tax and charges that your beneficiary must pay. An example could be if the beneficiary is aged 18 or over at the time of your death.

Here is how to prepare your finances for death

Should you make specific legacies?

If you want to protect particular items, such as family heirlooms, consider treating them as specific legacies.

Name them in your will and give instructions as to who should take over their ownership once you die.

Should you leave a residual legacy?

Once any specific instructions to distribute your estate have been carried out, any remaining money or property is called your residual legacy.

It is vital that you leave instructions as to how this should be disbursed in your will. If you don't, it will be deemed intestate and dealt with under the Intestacy Laws.

Who can witness a will?

It is important that you sign your will, otherwise, it will be worthless in law. Your witnesses must:

  • Be two independent people

  • Not be benefiting from your will

  • Not be blind or partially sighted

  • Have sufficient mental capacity

Remember that anyone likely to benefit from your will cannot be a witness to its signing.

How should the will be stored?

Once the will has been written and signed:

  • Don't hide it: If your will cannot be found after your death, you will be deemed to have died intestate and your efforts will have been wasted

  • Keep it safe: In a storage facility, where it will be protected from fire, flood, damage or loss. This may be at a remote location, such as a bank

Your executors will be given certificates telling them where your will is stored and how to get hold of it after your death.

For more information about safe storage, speak with your solicitor.

You can help ensure you have the retirement you want by finding the best personal pension plan to make your money work as hard as it can.

Find the best personal pension plan to make your money work as hard as it can.

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