Making a will is essential in order to direct what happens to an estate after death. Without a will the law of intestacy dictates how an estate will be divided up. In many cases this may not reflect what the deceased would have wanted, nor cater adequately for the needs of a surviving spouse or partner.
Those who are cohabiting with a partner, who does not have a will, are especially vulnerable as the law of intestacy leaves them nothing.
Despite this, it is estimated 60%  of UK adults do not have a will. One reason for this may be the perceived cost. Costs of legal advice vary, but can be as little as £300. Often where a couple are writing "mirror" wills, solicitors will offer to do both for little more than the cost of a single will.
It is possible to write a will without legal advice. Standard forms can be bought online or from high street stationers. Litigation lawyers are especially keen on this type of DIY will, as they often result in ambiguities and disputes which keep them in lucrative work for many years. Where there is uncertainty, the delay caused in gaining probate can mean that legal costs are higher and beneficiaries have to wait longer to receive their inheritance.
A consultation with a lawyer to draft a will need not be expensive and can often save much larger legal bills later. In order to keep the process affordable, here are 10 things to consider ahead of the consultation.
- Prepare a list of assets owned with approximate values. Detail outstanding debts. Let your executor or solicitor know where all your title deeds, passbooks assets, life policies and loan agreements are held. Also, keep a record of any gifts of capital made in the last 14 years. Keep these updated.
- If you have dependants, consider what their needs would be if they no longer had your income to live off? This will help you decide how much capital and income you need to leave them and whether there will be surplus assets which can be left to others or charities.
- If dependants’ needs cannot be met from assets and savings you may consider arranging life assurance to meet the shortfall. This should be arranged in trust and will not then form part of your taxable estate.
- Should you have minor children, think about who you would wish to be their guardian and seek their agreement.
- Consider who you want to act as your executor. Get their agreement. This can be a solicitor who will charge for their time; or a friend or relative who can only claim expenses. It is a big responsibility and can be time consuming, so leaving them a legacy may be a way of saying thank you.
- If you want to give specific items such as jewellery, a car or your record collection to specific individuals, it is usually simpler to do so by writing a side letter to your executor. Similarly, very detailed plans for a funeral are best set out in a letter.
- Do not be tempted to use your will to settle old scores. This can seriously complicate the administration of your estate with delays and higher costs. Complaining that a child did not repay a loan, so is getting less, will simply set HMRC on the path of pursuing them for the outstanding amount to claim the tax due on it.
- If you have any outstanding loans due to you or an interest in anyone else’s property, for example as a result of divorce, then ensure that your solicitor or executor has copies of the legal papers confirming this. This will save time and money later.
- If you have debts to pay, ensure that these are documented and kept up to date as they will need to be settled and will reduce the value of the estate for inheritance tax.
- Review your will every few years and especially following marriage or divorce, as this invalidates prior wills. Also after a bereavement or if a partner goes into care, when you may wish to alter the shares of the beneficiaries.
Director of Public Policy, LEBC
Please remember, no news or research item is a recommendation or advice to buy. LEBC Group Ltd is not responsible for accuracy and may not share the author’s views. If you are unsure of the suitability of any investment or product for your circumstances please contact an adviser. Will writing is not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
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