Who should make a Will
If you care what happens to your property after you die, you should make a Will. Without one, the State directs who inherits, so your friends, favourite charities and relatives may get nothing.
It is particularly important to make a Will if you are not married or are not in a registered civil partnership (a legal arrangement that gives same-sex partners the same status as a married couple). This is because the law does not automatically recognise cohabitants (partners who live together) as having the same rights as husbands, wives and civil partners. As a result, even if you have lived together for many years, your cohabitant may be left with nothing if you have not made a Will.
A Will is also vital if you have children or dependants who may not be able to care for themselves. Without a Will there could be uncertainty about who will look after or provide for them if you die.
Your Lawyer can also advise you on how inheritance tax affects what you own.
You should also consider taking legal advice about making a Will if:
• several people could make a claim on your estate when you die because they depend on you financially;
• you want to include a trust in your Will (perhaps to provide for young children or a disabled person, save tax, or simple protect your assets in some way after you die);
• your permanent home is not in the UK or you are not a British citizen;
• you live here but have overseas property; or
• you own all or part of a business.
Once you have had a Will drawn up, some changes to your circumstances – for example, marriage, civil partnership is dissolved (legally ended) – can make all or part of that will invalid or inadequate. This means that you must review your Will regularly, to reflect, any major life changes. A Lawyer can tell you what changes may be necessary to update your Will.
Using a Lawyer
Although it is possible to write a Will without a Lawyer’s help, this is generally not advisable as there are various legal formalities you need to follow to make sure that your Will is valid. Without the help of an expert, there is a real risk you could make a mistake, which could cause problems for your family and friends after your death.
What your Lawyer will need to know
Once you have appointed a Lawyer, they will need the following details from you.
What you own – Details of everything you own, including property, cars, personal valuables, stocks and shares, bank accounts, insurance policies, any business you own and pensions.
Who gets what? – Who do you want to leave these assets to? How do you want to divide your property between your loved ones, friends or charities? Are there any conditions you want to attach to these gifts (for example, that young people must reach a particular age before they are paid any money you have left them)?
Family and other beneficiaries – Details of your family and status. Are you divorced or has your civil partnership been dissolved? Have you remarried or entered into a new civil partnership? Or are you living with someone without being married to them or being their civil partner? Do you have any children or any other dependants? Anyone who depends on you financially can ask a court to review your Will if they feel you have not provided properly for them. If you give your Lawyer relevant details, they can tell you about any legal pitfalls.
Guardians – If you have any children that may still be under 18 when you die, you may need to name someone as their legal guardians.
Other wishes – Do you have any particular wishes for your funeral? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Are there any other instructions? For example, if you want to be an organ donor this can be included in your Will. However, it is also a good idea to record your wishes on the organ-donor register, or to carry an organ-donor card.
Executors – You must also name people you want to appoint as ‘executors’ of your Will – the people who carry out the administration of your Will after your death. These could be friends or family members, or a professional such as your Lawyer. A good combination would be a friend or family member and a professional. Ideally, you should choose someone who is familiar with financial matters. Make sure you ask your executors whether they are happy to take on this duty as there are long-term responsibilities involved, particularly if you include a trust in your Will. It is a good idea to ask someone younger than you are.
Signing the Will
Once the Will has been drawn up it is not effective until it has been signed. There are several rules affecting the signature process which, if not followed correctly, will make your Will invalid. For example, witnesses and their husbands, wives or civil partners cannot benefit under the Will. Many people use staff at their Lawyer’s office to act as their witnesses to avoid this problem.
Where to keep the Will
It is important to keep your Will in a safe place and tell your executors or a close friend or relative where it is. People often ask their Lawyer to store their Wills for them. Most Lawyers will do this for free, but sometimes there is a small fee.
Keeping your Will updated
You should review your Will at least every five years and after any major life change such as getting married, separated or divorced, having a child or moving house. It is best to deal with any major changes by getting a new Will drawn up. But it is also possible to make minor changes (or ‘codicils’) to your existing Will. In both cases it is best to consult a Lawyer.
Charges for drawing up a Will vary between Lawyers. They also depend on:
• the experience and knowledge of the Lawyer; and
• how complicated your Will may be.
Before you decide who to use, check with a few local Lawyers to find out how much they charge. But remember that cost should not be the only consideration, It is equally important to find a Lawyer who is approachable and whose advice you understand.
Call Jill Hallam 07523 963026 or 01773 549037
40 High Street
Derbyshire, DE55 2BP