According to research from Macmillan Cancer Support, nearly two thirds of the UK’s adult population do not have a Will. Even more worrying is that 42% of over-55s have not made any legal instructions for what should happen to their estate after their passing. That’s quite a concerning figure, especially when a Will can quite easily set out what you would like to happen to your assets and treasured possessions, and if you have children, who their guardians will be.
With recent events pushing the thought of our own mortality higher up our list of priorities though, there’s likely to be a surge in Will writing.
The temptation is to have a Will quickly drafted; but the laws around Wills are complex and mistakes do happen – from unintentionally disinheriting a loved one to making the entire document void. So, what steps can you take to make sure your Will is correctly drafted and allows for your wishes to be accurately followed?
Be careful: who writes your Will matters
Unfortunately, unlike many areas of financial services, Will writing is not a regulated market. The protection you have varies hugely, depending on who writes it. Whilst most people will look to a trusted local solicitor for advice, others however will opt for a non-lawyer service promising to create a Will in 15 minutes… Often, with a templated so-called DIY Will, the company that supplies it will not take responsibility for your Will not being correctly drafted.
Solicitors, however, are regulated professionals meaning you can be confident your Will has been correctly prepared. It may cost you more, but it’ll give you peace-of-mind that your estate will be properly taken care of according to your wishes. After all, this will be one of the main reasons you will be thinking of making a Will in the first place.
Finances are never ‘too simple’ for estate planning
Many people assume that their financial and family situation is uncomplicated and that they don’t need the unnecessary expense of writing a Will. In our experience though, life is never quite that straightforward.
Just as an example, some people believe that shared ownership of a home or joint ownership over finances means their partner is protected if they were to die. In the UK though, intestacy laws do not currently offer any protection for unmarried partners, meaning having no Will could lead to an unexpected situation for a partner. Our Wills solicitors will help guide you through the areas you should consider depending on your current situation and wishes.
They’ll help you consider what type of Will best suits your needs, such as a standard Single Will, a Trust Will or Mirror Wills and carefully help you understand the pros and cons of each.
Planning for ‘what if’
Even the best laid plans in life need to account for the unexpected. Wills are no exception. That’s why it’s important not to rush the process, even though you’re keen to finalise your estate planning. For example, getting married and separating from a partner can impact your Will, as can the birth of a child or grandchild. Assets also fluctuate in value over time, and sadly, younger relatives can pass away before you.
It’s also not uncommon for disagreements to arise between current spouses and the children from a first marriage where the instructions are not clear. As part of the Will writing process, a solicitor should tactfully and sensitively talk through the ‘what if’ scenarios with you; to avoid your assets being passed to someone you wouldn’t want them to go to.
Although a well-prepared Will should cover the ‘what ifs’, many people forget that a Will should reflect your wishes at any given time. Even if you don’t think your family and financial situation is likely to change, estate planning laws do. For example, many people with an existing Will are unaware of changes to the residence nil rate band that allows for family homes up to a specific value to be passed on tax free. Yet the rules around using it can be quite complex. That’s why it’s best to regularly review your Will.
Remember the intangible assets
Writing a Will in a hurry can make it more likely that you’ll miss out less obvious assets.
Houses, cars and money tend to be the most noticeable things people think about. But don’t forget your intangible assets such as premium bonds, shares, jewellery and possessions that have sentimental value.
Likewise, in the digital age, online assets need to be considered; especially those that hold either emotional or financial value, including the likes of PayPal, email addresses and social media accounts. Our blog on securing your digital legacy will give you some pointers on how you can make it as easy as possible for loved ones to access your digital assets.
Don’t forget to name an Executor
This tends to be more of an issue with templated Wills where people forget to name the Executors of their Will (the person who will deal with the administration of your estate). When this happens, the probate court will appoint someone to act as the Executor, who might not be the person you wanted.
Your Executor should be someone you trust and is capable since it carries quite some responsibility. You might also want to choose a substitute Executor in case your first person is unable to act - these can be relatives, friends or even a solicitor.
Plan for life, not just death
A Will protects your chosen beneficiaries’ interests after you’ve died but a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) protects your own interest while you’re still alive. Depending on the type of LPA you choose, it gives an attorney(s) the authority to either make property & financial or health & welfare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
Setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney is straightforward, and it gives reassurance that if you do become incapacitated for whatever reason, whoever you choose as your attorney(s) can immediately act on your behalf and in your best interests.
It’s worth remembering though, once you reach the point where you need someone to act for you, it’s often too late to set up an LPA. That’s why it’s best to make a power of attorney at the same time as you do a Will.
How we can help
At Burnett Barker Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated Wills solicitors who are ready to help you with your estate planning needs.
If you would like to have a Will written, want to make changes to an existing Will or simply want some general advice, our Bury St Edmunds Wills and Probate solicitors have a wealth of experience.