Creating a will that details all your wants and wishes can help you enjoy everything there is to love about life — and provide reassurance to loved ones that when the time comes, you've got everything covered from a legal standpoint.
SoGlos spoke to Rachel Curtis, head of private clientele at Gloucester-based Tayntons Solicitors, to get the lowdown on everything you need to know about making a will in 2024 — including the difference between a living will and a regular will; what happens if you don't have a will; and if it can ever be too soon to make one.
Let's start with the basics — why is having a will so important?
Simply put, if you don't have a will, you or people you love don't have a say.
A will is important because it gives you control over your estate and allows you to decide who will benefit and what they will receive.
Without a will, the distribution is determined by a set of rules called the Intestacy Rules, which may not align with your wishes.
How easy is making a will?
Making wills is probably easier than ever before. You can make a will through various methods: using an online service; making your own with or without a DIY template; or by seeking out a professional to prepare one for you.
Costs can vary — online templates may be low-cost or free while the cost of using a professional can range in price depending on complexity.
After you make a will, you should review it after any major life change such as marriage, having children or divorce or any material change to your personal circumstances. You should also carry out regular reviews every few years to check you are still happy with the contents of your will and the distribution of your estate.
What happens when someone passes away without a will?
If you die without a will, you are classed as dying intestate and your estate is distributed according to a strict set of rules called the Intestacy Rules.
These rules determine who receives what depending on the size of your estate and your family connections. They do not allow for modern family relationships and make no provision for unmarried partners or step children.
This may lead to unintended consequences and disputes among family members.
What safeguards can be put in place to prevent familial disputes over a will?
Guaranteed avoidance of familial disputes can never entirely be promised, as there are complicated dynamics within every family. However, ensuring your will is valid and up-to-date with clearly set out wishes can help prevent a dispute.
The appointment of executors can be key and you should consider using an independent or professional executor, especially where a dispute is anticipated.
The best option is to have your will prepared by a professional who will advise you on what safeguards or measures you can put in place. A solicitor in the Tayntons’ private client team can help with this by providing you with advice regarding your will according to your specific circumstances.
Where possible, we would also recommend always discussing your plans with your family to avoid any surprises later down the line.
What are the potential consequences of forgoing a will — even if you happen to be married?
Despite what some may think, marriage does not automatically guarantee that your surviving spouse will inherit the whole estate — without a will, the distribution may not align with your particular wishes and may not adequately provide for your surviving spouse.
This can lead to financial and emotional stress for the surviving spouse and other family members.
What is the difference between a living will and a regular will?
A living will, or advance decision as it's sometimes referred, is a document in which you set out your preferences on medical treatment for some time in the future, to cover circumstances where you become unable to make your own decisions.
A regular will is a document which deals with the administration and distribution of your estate after you die.
Lasting Powers of Attorney are documents in which you can appoint attorneys to deal with either your property and finance or health and welfare in the event that you do not have capacity to deal with matters yourself.
I would recommend making both property and finance and health and welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney as an insurance policy, so that you are able to appoint people that you trust as attorneys to deal with matters for you if you are unable to.
The alternative is applying to the Court of Protection for a deputyship order which is a longer, more expensive process. On death, the attorneys lose their authority to act, which is why it is important to make a will to ensure your estate can be administered in the way you wish by your chosen executors.
What are some of the key decisions you should include in your will?
A will should include funeral wishes, the appointment of executors, the appointment of guardians for any minor children and detail how you would like your estate to be distributed — i.e. who will receive exactly what.
An executor should be someone that you trust. You must choose at least one, but can appoint up to four. It is common to appoint at least two, in case one is unable to act for any reason upon your death.
Acting as an executor can be quite an involved, time-consuming job and there will likely be lots of paperwork to deal with, so in practical terms, you should consider whether someone has the time and administrative skills to deal with your estate in the way you would expect.
If not, they can always appoint a professional to act on their behalf. The appointment of a professional executor would also be a good option if your estate is likely to be complicated or there may be contentious issues.
In terms of funeral planning, how specific can people be about their funeral preferences?
Funeral wishes can be included in a will, but strangely enough they are not legally binding.
It is often better to discuss and communicate your preferences with family or friends beforehand to ensure your wishes are known and can be carried out.
How can a solicitor help — and what services does Tayntons offer in this sector?
After taking your full instructions, Tayntons will create a will that is tailored to your individual circumstances and can provide you with advice on estate planning.
We can also assist in reviewing wills to ensure they still meet your needs after big life events take place. Tayntons also prepares and advises on Lasting Powers of Attorney documents.
When life is busy and things like this often end up at the bottom of an endless to-do list, what is the minimum people should do?
Don’t delay, make creating a will your priority!
Arrange an appointment with Tayntons today to control what happens to your estate when you die, to ensure peace of mind for you and your loved ones, when it's needed the most.