In a word, yes. Although it’s one of those topics that most people don’t want to think about, planning what happens to your estate after you die is important for the people you leave behind.
Writing a will is generally considered a difficult and complicated task, which is probably why around 56 per cent of people in the UK don’t have one. This is despite the fact that making a will remains one of the most important financial decisions you will ever make.
What if you don’t leave a will?
This would leave you ‘intestate’, and can cause a lot of hassle for grieving relatives, not to mention an uncertain future with regards to finances. Under these circumstances, there would be lots of expensive and time consuming legal proceedings. When someone dies intestate, these complicated legalities can take months, or even years.
Your assets (things like your car, savings, investments, house and personal possessions) could be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, if you don’t specify what should happen to them.
Intestacy rules generally mean that most of the estate passes to surviving partner (this is defined as spouse or civil partner) and children. However, it’s far from definite that your loved ones will benefit from your estate in the way you want.
When should you make a will?
Major life events like having children, getting married or entering a civil partnership should kickstart your decision to make a will.
If you are living with a partner but not married, it’s even more important to get a will sorted. This is because your unmarried partner won’t get anything of yours legally, unless you write a will and specify it.
You’ll also have to name people you would want to carry out whatever you specify in your will. These are known as ‘executors’. They will go through probate, which is a process that will eventually allow them to split your assets between your beneficiaries.
Whether you have children is important
If you have children with your partner, whether married, civil or unmarried), then you have to decide who will be charged with them should you die. You need to name who will be their guardians and who will look after your estate until the children reach majority. If you don’t have a will then it means you’re not in control of what will happen to your kids after you die.
If you’re unmarried and have no children, then your estate could go to your siblings or your parents if they are still alive. As this would increase their estate, this could mean an increase in Inheritance Tax on their deaths. If there are no relatives to be found then it’s possible your estate could be passed on to the government.
What’s the best way to make a will?
- Do it yourself
You can find a DIY kit online and write your own will. However, this option could cause problems for those left behind. The more complex your financial affairs, the more important it is for you to get professional advice.
It’s very easy to make a mistake if you try and draw up a legally binding document yourself. This could even make your will invalid, in the worst-case scenario. It’s also advisable to avoid unregulated will writing services online.
- Use a bank
Most high street banks offer will writing services, but some insist on appointing themselves as an executor. This can mean extra charges so it’s worth looking into this thoroughly before going ahead.
- Commission a professional
Your best option is to use a solicitor or professional financial advisor with lots of definable experience and skill in writing wills. You can also meet with them face-to-face, which can really help to nail down how you want your will to work for you.
It doesn’t have to be super expensive either. If you shop around you will be able to find many different cost options. A basic will set up with a professional advisor helping you should cost about £150, depending on the complexity of your requirements.
Things you need to do:
- Appoint two executors to sort out your affairs.
- Find out about inheritance tax (IHT), and whether you’re over the tax-free allowance.
- Pretty much everyone should be able to bring their IHT down so consult a professional advisor if you are subject to inheritance tax.
- Appoint a guardian in case you die before your children reach 18.
- Decide whether you want to be cremated or buried – this isn’t a legal requirement but can make life easier for those you leave behind.