The beginning of the new year ‘is traditionally a time for resolutions and fresh starts. It is the time when we see an increase in people wanting to make wills,’ Cliff Veitch, Head of the Wills, Probate and Life Planning department at David Gray Solicitors explains. Indeed, the beginning of the new year reminds us that time is passing, and the older we get, the more vital a will becomes for looking after both ourselves and our family. It can legally protect your spouse, children and assets, and it can also state precisely how you would like things to be handled, after your death.
Who Should Inherit Your Estate
Ian Lowes, Managing Director at Lowes Financial Management, explains: ‘Making a Will can be one of the most important things you do for your family. If you die without one, your estate will be distributed strictly in line with intestacy rules, which may be against your wishes and with no regard for people you care about most.’ Your estate is everything comprising your own net worth, including all land and real estate, possessions, financial securities, money, among other assets, that you own or have a controlling interest in. If you die without having made a will, intestacy laws decide which members of your family will inherit your estate, and in what proportion. ‘Partners who are neither married, nor in a civil partnership have no protection under the current intestacy rules and even children of married partners, or civil partnerships could receive a lot less than expected,’ Ian tells us. So, if you want certain individuals or organisations to inherit some of your estate, then a will can make sure your wishes are followed. ‘Making a will is simple and inexpensive to do and far outweighs the implications of not having one,’ Ian explains. ‘The benefits can be significant in terms of providing for your dependents, protecting an unmarried partner, reducing inheritance tax and protecting your home.’
Who Shouldn’t Inherit It
Something also worth considering is that aside from a will assuring which family members do receive parts of your estate, you can also disinherit individuals who would otherwise stand to inherit. Cliff Veitch explains further. ‘Marriage automatically cancels any previous will. This is a trap that can cause unintended consequences. Without a will, if you are unmarried your partner will not automatically receive anything.’ Because wills specifically outline how you would like your estate distributed, without one, your estate could potentially end up in the hands of someone you did not intend, such as an ex-spouse rather than a current partner. If you are separated from an ex-partner but are still married or in a civil partnership, they may inherit from your estate even though you no longer live together.
Think of the Children (and Pets)
‘Although the most common reason for a will is to control how your estate is divided, it also allows you to appoint guardians to look after children,’ says Ian. It’s becoming more and more common for couples to decide not to get married. Sadly though, the law hasn’t caught up with that fact. The harsh reality is that if you pass away without a will, then an unmarried partner isn’t automatically legally entitled to anything. ‘It is essential to provide clarity to your family and avert family disputes,’ Ian states.
Don’t forget about any pets you have, either – If you have a furry friend, they will also need to be looked after you’re gone. In 1992, a German shepherd received a nine-figure sum from his owner (though we’re not sure whether that’s entirely sensible). You can choose someone to look after them, and put some money aside to feed them and look after their health. Choose wisely though, as some people aren’t ready or don’t want to look after a pet. Ensure they have all the information that they will need concerning things like your pet’s diet, preferences, and of course medical needs, which you can also include in your will.
Things To Remember
Of course, you may already have a will, but is it up to date? ‘Over half of adults do not have a will or may have a will which is out of date,’ Cliff tells us. ‘This can cause grief and uncertainty for families and loved ones.’ Significant life changes like the birth of a grandchild or death of a relative can create situations where changing your will is necessary. As we mentioned earlier, getting divorced will not override your will, so it makes sense to regularly review your will so that it still appropriately reflects your current situation.
You should also consider that making a will can help your family avoid paying more inheritance tax than they need to – the amount that you’ll be charged from your estate entirely depends on how much you have, and who you leave it to. Anything left to a civil partner or spouse is exempt from the inheritance tax. Leaving property to your kids and grandkids can also help generate a lower inheritance tax bill.
Remember though – a will that isn’t properly signed and witnessed is invalid. In the UK, two witnesses are required, and both of them need to be in the room with you when you sign. So, if you haven’t arranged a will, then now is the perfect time to take that step and get one sorted, and if you already have one, then make sure that it’s up to date.