Thinking about making a will might not be the cheeriest subject, but it’s so important to ensure your loved ones are looked after when you’re no longer around.
Whether you’re leaving behind a home, an heirloom or even a family business, Willans LLP solicitors in Cheltenham shares its expert advice on why making a will is so important.
About the expert – Simon Cook from Willans LLP
Simon is a partner and head of Willans’ wills, trusts and probate team. He has over 25 years’ experience in the field, specialising in complex estate and tax planning – and is also recommended in independent legal guides The Legal 500 and Chambers High Net Worth.
Willans LLP provide independent, practical advice on all aspects of wills and probate, regardless of your age or circumstances – from creating a will, protecting business assets, to taking care of elderly and vulnerable relatives.
Is it important to make a will?
Many people are reluctant to make a will and we understand it can be an uncomfortable thing to think about. But the truth is, failure to prepare a will can cause real deprivation, delay and distress when you die.
Making a will ensures that your loved ones will be adequately provided for and do not find themselves dependent on others. Most people believe their home and possessions will automatically pass to their immediate family when they die. Sadly, without a will, there is no guarantee this will be the case.
Is it still important to make a will if you don’t own a property or have a large asset to pass on as an inheritance?
Most definitely. Your will deals with all of your estate; this doesn’t just mean large assets like property but also bank accounts, investments, business interests and personal belongings. Often it is the smaller items belonging to the deceased that hold the most value to those left behind.
Preparing a will can also make dealing with your estate easier. By expressing your wishes for who should carry out the administration, who should care for your children and who should receive your assets, you are providing a clear pathway for your loved ones and the relevant authorities.
How does a will ensure that your assets will go to the people you want them to?
Your will is your opportunity to set out how you wish your assets to be handled when you are gone. You can do this by way of a direct gift or by putting assets in trust to provide for someone without giving them ultimate control. This can be particularly important if you have young children or beneficiaries not able to manage money for themselves.
If prepared and executed properly, your will is a legally binding document. If your wishes are not carried out properly, your intended beneficiaries can seek the assistance of the court.
If someone has assets, but doesn’t have a will, what happens then?
The law dictates what will happen to your assets if you die without making a will. These are known as the ‘intestacy rules’. The rules were first introduced in 1925 and whilst they were amended in 2014, most of the provisions remain unchanged. As a result, the rules do not necessarily reflect the complications of modern-day families, for example, there is no provision for unmarried partners.
It is also worth remembering that the law can change. So, even if the provisions suit your circumstances now, the result could be different by the time you pass away. The only way of being sure that you have provided for your loved ones is to prepare and update your will.
What about single people – is it worth making a will if you don’t have a partner or children to pass things onto?
Wills aren’t just about providing for immediate family. Anyone who has assets has a right to decide who will receive those assets when they pass away. You may have close friends or neighbours who you would like to recognise or you may have assumed responsibility for the maintenance of a vulnerable but remote family member.
Business owners may also have an obligation to provide the smooth transition of their business interests to their partners, which can only be arranged through the preparation of a professionally and carefully drafted will.
How easy is it to update a will when things change
Wills need to be reviewed regularly and brought up-to-date, as and when your circumstances change. For example, if you marry, divorce or remarry, any existing will may become invalid or outdated.
Once a will is in place, small changes such as a change of executor or the removal or addition of a clause can be made by preparing a simple codicil. A codicil is usually a short document which outlines the changes to the original document.
For larger changes it is often easier to prepare a new will from scratch. This ensures that nothing is lost in the translation of two separate documents. Fresh wills automatically revoke the earlier document, so there can be no confusion.
Are there different types of will?
Every will should be bespoke and tailored to the needs and wishes of the individual: some include trust provisions to account for younger or vulnerable members of the family; others may provide rights to occupy a property or to receive income for the lifetime of a surviving partner.
Whilst many wills are “straightforward” there is no one-size-fits-all. The important thing is to take advice from a properly qualified professional to ensure that your will is suitable and reflective of your wishes.
Our friendly, specialist team helps people with their wills day-in-day-out. If you have any questions about preparing a will or you’d like to find out more, we would be happy to hear from you.