We quizzed Elliot Chambers, of Goughs Solicitors, and Megan Phillips, of BLB Solicitors, about the hows and whys of wills…
I’m young, happy and healthy. Why should I concern myself with making a will now rather than when I retire?
BLB: It is never too early to make a will. It can be a simple process that will leave you certain that your estate will pass to those people who are important to you.
Goughs: The short answer is that we cannot tell the future. A will comes into effect after we have passed away and, unfortunately, not all of us will live a long life through to retirement. It is important to have a will in place to make sure that you are prepared and that your wishes shall be carried out after you pass away, regardless of when that might be.
I don’t own a house or have lots of money in the bank. Why should I go to the expense of making a will?
BLB: It is important to make a will even if your assets are not substantial. If you are a parent, a will can be the best way of ensuring that your children are provided for if you die while they are minors. Furthermore, having a will in place makes the administration process much simpler for those you leave behind, setting your mind at rest that your whole family will be taken care of financially after your death.
Goughs: Whilst a will will deal with any property and money that you have when you pass away, it can also record your wishes and deal with a number of other issues that might be of concern to you. For example, in your will you could appoint guardians for any minor children you may leave. These are the people who would be responsible for caring for your children if you were to pass away whilst they were still minors.
Other than family, what else can I do with money and possessions?
BLB: In this country we have a tradition of ‘testamentary freedom’, meaning you are free to leave your estate to whomever you wish. While it is important to consider family, many people choose to benefit friends or charities instead. Often clients want to benefit a family member in a vulnerable position. It may be preferable to place their inheritance in trust so they do not inherit absolutely. A solicitor will be able to advise you.
Goughs: If you wished to leave a set amount or a share of your estate to friends or charities you are able to do so. You are also able to gift specific personal possessions to whomever you please. That being said, there are rules that would allow certain people to challenge your will if they have not been reasonably provided for.
I’m confused about how to divide my estate. Can a solicitor assist with this?
BLB: When considering who to benefit in your will, it is important to consider who may be entitled to make a claim against your estate if sufficient provision has not been made for them. A solicitor will be able to advise you on these potential claims and this will assist in deciding how to divide your estate. Ultimately, however, it is your decision.
Goughs: How you choose to divide your estate is a personal decision that must be made by you. A solicitor is unable to tell you how you should divide your estate, but can provide you with practical advice to assist you in making your decision.
How often should I review my will?
BLB: We suggest reviewing your will at least every five years to ensure that it is still in line with your wishes. Legislation changes regularly and so we advise seeking up-to-date legal advice to ensure that your will is best suited to the current law. This is particularly important when it comes to inheritance tax laws.
Goughs: There is no set rule as to how often a will should be reviewed. Whenever there is a change in your circumstances (such as if you were to have a child or to inherit money), it is a good idea to read through your will to make sure that it is still in accordance with your wishes. You should also review your will if one of your executors or beneficiaries were to fall ill or pass away or if you have changed your mind about how you would like your estate to be divided.
What happens if I die without a will?
BLB: Your estate will be administered in accordance with statutory rules known as the Intestacy Rules. These govern which of your family members will inherit and often lead to unsatisfactory outcomes such as an estranged family member inheriting an estate. There are many misconceptions about these rules. For example, if you are married and do not have a will, your spouse will not necessarily inherit your whole estate. These very inflexible rules do not always suit the modern family. Second marriages are now common and it is an increasing concern of our clients to ensure that children from previous relationships are protected when it comes to their inheritance.
Goughs: Intestacy rules identify the order in which classes of your relatives will inherit your estate. These rules can often lead to your estate passing to people you would not ordinarily wish to benefit and it is not advisable to rely on these rules to divide your estate how you would like.