No one is an any doubt that we are experiencing one of the most worrying and challenging times in a generation with the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). At times of such uncertainty we often look to parts of our life that we can control; to give sense and order.
Having a valid, up-to-date, effective will is perhaps the most important legal document a person will ever have. Yet too often it is overlooked or put off with, sometimes, very distressing and expensive consequences.
What should I consider when making a will?
A valid will enables you to set out who will (and who you would not wish) to receive all your assets. This is known as your estate, which comprises of:
your personal belongings
any home or property you have
It also confirms who you would trust to administer your estate (your executor), any funeral wishes, the care of pets and many other important considerations. Overlooked areas can include what should happen to an inheritance if an intended beneficiary sadly dies before you or what age should children or grandchildren inherit.
Who should consider making a will?
The list of who should have a will is, in reality, everyone. However, people in particular individual circumstances include:
Cohabiting couples: Couples who are not married or in a civil partnership have no automatic entitlement under the law.
Recently married or divorced: Both events result in important and significant changes to the law of wills.
People with children: From the appointment of legal guardians, to making sure they do not inherit a significant sum too young, the responsibility of children cannot be understated. This is particularly if you have children from a previous relationship.
Owning property: Property ownership significantly adds to the potential responsibility, value and complexity of your financial affairs.
Inheritance Tax: Anyone who has concerns about the impact of Inheritance Tax on their estate should be considering what can be done with a will to improve the situation.
Individuals: Everyone is an individual with different motives, whether you wish to support a particular charity or club, look after your pets and animals or simply want to ensure your important possessions, like an item of jewellery, are inherited by the correct person and not fought over. We all have our own reason to want to have a will.
Significant and varied life events provide a good opportunity to reconsider and review an existing will. Even in the absence of such changes, we still recommend doing this on a five yearly basis.
How do I make my will valid?
Being sure of what you want to happen, even communicating this clearly to your family and friends, is not sufficient. To ensure that your wishes and intentions are carried out and honoured you must have a legally binding will that complies with the strict requirements of the law. If a document is not accepted as a lawful will, the contents will be ignored and the law of intestacy (outlined below) will take effect.
What happens if I die without a will?
Without a will, or if your will is invalid, the law of England and Wales sets out the distribution of your estate as you can see from the flowchart below.
It is clear to see that for many people this will not be appropriate or desirable. Even when the distribution accurately echoes a person’s wishes, the smallest of arguments between beneficiaries over a personal item can prove distressing and potentially expensive.
Do I need a lawyer to make a will?
Whilst strictly not, the reality is that for most people they would wish such an important document to be in the hands of an experienced, qualified and caring professional. Be very careful of unregulated will writers. Legal advisors at Porter Dodson are experienced, regulated and you have protection and confidence that your wishes will be followed.
We are here for you
If upon reading this you have realised you or a family member needs to have a will or review a current will, it is important to act now and we’re here for you. During this difficult time, our teams of legal advisors are taking telephone appointments and making email contact with clients to help address this important matter.
We will make the necessary arrangements to ensure that your will, and any other legal documents you require, are progressed to a conclusion as smoothly as possible. In a time of uncertainty, it is good to know that you can still address such an important matter and take back a bit of control.