How to Make a Will
Making a will ensures your assets and estate upon death get shared according to your wishes. People dying without wills in place have their property distributed according to intestacy laws and also slow the process down.
Writing your own will can be undertaken with the help of DIY websites or templates. You need to ensure that you consider all elements that specialist lawyers follow and use in probate. If you believe others may contest your will, then you should seek professional advice. To be legally valid, you need to sign the will and formally witnessed.
Why Do You Need a Will?
Research shows that over 60% of people die in the UK without making a will and this can cause problems when you least need them. If you die without a will, then there are laws and structures in place that determine where the estate get distributed whether you like it or not.
Having a will should ensure that your wishes are taken into account when you die, but if you get it wrong, then the will may become invalid with the laws of intestacy coming into effect in any case.
Laws of Intestacy For Inheriting an Estate
The UK laws of intestacy apply if you haven't made a will as follows:
You Are Married
If you are married and your estate is worth less than £250,000, then the entire estate goes to your spouse whether you have children or not.
Married With Children
If you are married and have children and your estate is worth over £250,000, then the following applies:
- Your spouse inherits the first £250,000.
- Your spouse inherits half of the remainder of your estate.
- Your children share the balance.
This scenario can create many problems with home ownership. For example, if you have a home valued at £750,000 and other assets totalling £250,000 then the spouse and children inherit half the home each. Issues could occur if the children want to sell the family home but the spouse wants to stay. A legal will would state otherwise if you do not want this scenario with your family.
Your children from all relationships get counted equally included legally adopted children. They only receive their inheritance on their 18th birthday or if they marry or enter into a civil partnership before that age.
Married Without Children
The entire estate goes to the spouse.
Not Married With children
If you are not married and have children, then the entire estate gets shared equally between the children with the spouse receiving nothing.
Not Married and Have no Children
If you are not married, have no children but have parents, then the estate is shared between the parents. If there are no parents but brothers and sisters then it is shared between them.
If there are no parents or brothers and sisters, then it passes to the grandparents, and if there are none of those it's passed to blood aunts and uncles. If there are no relations, it passes to the government.
Order for inheritance:
- 1. Children or their descendants
- 2. Parents
- 3. Brothers or sisters or their descendants
- 4. Half siblings or their descendants
- 5. Grandparents
- 6. Uncles and/or aunts or their descendants
- 7. Half uncles and/or aunts or their descendants
- 8. The whole estate passes to the crown
As you can see from the above, if you are not married your partner receives nothing if you do not make a will. If you are married, then the proceeds of an estate are divided on your behalf by the laws of intestacy. If you have any other wishes than those mentioned above, you should be making a will of your own.
Note: In the above examples married also means civil partners.
Steps to Making Your Will
Your will document really has one purpose: To ensure that you pass particular assets to people that you choose (beneficiaries). You need to undertake two tasks to set this up.
1: List All Your Assets
There may be some pieces of jewellery you want to go to certain relatives or your home to be able to be lived in by certain people. So it's best to list all the assets you own or part-own initially then you can decide what to do with them. The main asset that most people have is a house, but this can also include antiques, house contents and any other property you own. Other assets may include bank accounts, life policies, bonds, investments and trusts.
2: List Your Beneficiaries
It may be easy just to think about cash gifts or assets you wish to be passed on, but your dependents will need to live after your death so think about the level of financial support they require to lead their lives. Also, consider guardians and what they may require.
Planning for Inheritance Tax
Inheritance tax is 40% and can put a huge hole in your estate when you pass away so inheritance tax planning is essential. It's worth taking financial advice to minimise your tax liability. As house prices increase your tax liability also increases. You may want to think about planning early on. You can make financial gifts each year that are free of tax and have the advantage of taper relief which reduces the tax burden each year after the gift is made to eventually zero.
Your Children's Guardians
If you do not appoint guardians for your children if you are not married then the courts will appoint someone they believe should look after them. You should also appoint an executor of the will who will manage all affairs (such as paying for a funeral) after your death.
As there are so many legal and tax issues, it's worth hiring a professional who can undertake all of this for you. There is no obligation for you to do this under UK law and there are many online DIY will writing services available it's up to you whether you go down this route as mistakes can be made (for example, forgetting to sign the will or not having it witnessed can make it invalid).
Solicitors are expensive but they have indemnity insurance if something happens to go wrong and they know the law better than you. Please take legal advice on such an important matter a making a will.
Power of Attorney
In your later years, you may want to appoint a trusted friend, relative or advisor to have a Power of Attorney over your financial affairs. This instruction means they can sign on your behalf as though they were you. They can sign cheques, contracts, and set up direct debits.
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