A Will is one of the most important legal documents you will ever sign. When the time comes, it will give your loved ones not only the support they need for the future, but the reassurance of knowing what your wishes were.
Most of us know that we ought to make a Will, but often we resist tackling it and put it off for another day. However, once you have made a Will, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you have put the right arrangements in place for your family.
The advantages of having a valid Will in place go beyond simply deciding who will have what. It is your chance to choose who will deal with the administration, who might look after your children if that was ever necessary and how you will leave property and other assets to avoid anyone missing out.
One of the most valuable aspects of a Will is that it will substantially reduce the risk of a dispute after your death. Where relatives have conflicting views about what someone wanted to happen, it is easy for misunderstandings and disagreements to arise. Where a clear Will exists, there is far less scope for people to fall out over differing opinions.
Below are some of the key benefits of making a Will and the risks they will help you avoid.
Making a Will allows you to leave your money and property to your choice of beneficiary. If you were to die without a Will, your estate would pass in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy. These rules set in out a strict order of preference who will inherit your estate. For example, if you left a spouse and children, then your spouse would inherit the first £270,000 plus all of your personal possessions.
The remaining amount would be split in half, with your spouse receiving one half and your children sharing the other half equally. This could mean that some people whom you would like to inherit will miss out or receive less than you would have wanted. Cohabiting partners and stepchildren will not receive anything under the rules.
Your executor is responsible for winding up your affairs. This can be time-consuming and sometimes complex. The role involves valuing your estate, calculating and paying Inheritance Tax, collecting in and selling your assets, which could include clearing and selling a property, settling all bills, preparing detailed estate accounts and distributing your estate in accordance with your Will.
When considering who to appoint as your executor, you will need to bear in mind how much work is involved and make sure that the person you choose is likely to be both willing and able to take the job on when the time comes.
You can appoint more than one executor if you wish and also include back-up executors in case your first choice cannot act.
Without a Will, those entitled to inherit under the Rules of Intestacy would need to take on the role of administering your estate and it might not always be clear who should deal with matters.
If you have children who are aged under 18 or who are not able to manage their own affairs, you can use your Will to appoint a guardian to care for them. If you do not do this, then it could be up to the court to appoint someone, if their other parent is not living.
You can leave money or property in trust in your Will, for example, for your minor children. You will choose someone to be a trustee and it will be their job to look after the money. You can leave guidance for the trustee as to how you would like the money to be spent while it is in the trust. This could include payments for education, a car or a deposit for a home. The trust can end when your children reach a certain age, such as 21 or 25, at which point they could be paid the capital.
If you do not leave a Will, then you lose the opportunity to choose the right trustee and to select the right age of inheritance.
If you remarry, any existing Will becomes invalid, unless it has specifically been made in contemplation of your marriage. Without a Will, there is a risk of ‘sideways disinheritance’. This refers to the situation where your estate passes to your new spouse, who could then leave it to their children, meaning any children you had from an earlier relationship might not inherit anything.
You can use your Will to make sure that both your spouse and your children are provided for. If you share a home with your spouse, you can leave them a life interest in your share of the property, which will allow them to live there as long as they want. Once they no longer need the home, your share would pass to your choice of beneficiary, such as your children.
A clearly drafted Will can go a long way to avoiding disputes arising after a death. By setting out exactly what you want to happen, your loved ones will have the reassurance of knowing what your wishes were and the risk of misunderstandings is reduced. If you have an invalid Will, then disputes can easily arise as different family members have their own opinion as to what should happen next.
When you make a Will you can plan ahead and leave other instructions for your executor, such as details of what you would like your funeral to look like. While this will not be legally binding on your executor, it is usually both helpful and comforting for those left behind to know what your wishes were.
You can also include a memorandum detailing what you would like to happen to certain personal possessions. By keeping this as a separate document to your Will, you can easily amend it if you acquire something new or wish to make other changes.
It is important to ensure that your last Will and testament is unambiguous and well-drafted. An unclear Will can cause difficulties for your executor and could result in a legal dispute. An expert Wills solicitor will also be able to discuss all aspects of your estate with you and ensure that your Will covers all eventualities and is an accurate reflection of your wishes.
For more information, request our free Wills guide.
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