A Will is one of the most important legal documents you will ever sign, yet many people put it off or leave matters to chance by assuming the law will reflect their wishes. Here are some top tips for how to go about doing it right.
No one wants to contemplate their own death, which is one of the reasons people tend to put off making a Will for longer than they should.
A Will is an incredibly important document that can have far-reaching implications for those you love, which is why it's worth getting expert legal advice when you make a Will.
Top Tips for Making a Will
1. Don't Assume You Can Do without a Will
Many people believe that the law will ensure that their estate is distributed fairly among their relatives after their death. If you die without a Will (Intestate), the law will decide who benefits from your estate.
Although this may work out as you hoped, there are no guarantees that the law will reflect your wishes and in more complex cases involving children and other family members there's a good chance things will turn out other than you would hope. The rules of Intestacy, for example, make no provision for unmarried partners, step-children or charities.
The best way to ensure that your wishes are clear is by making a Will. That way, there will be no doubts when you are no longer around to sort out any misunderstandings.
2. Get Expert Advice
DIY Wills might be considered a 'quick and easy' option but how do you know what you want your Will to say until you know what your options are?
At Co-op Legal Services, we've helped many clients over the years who originally wanted their Wills to say one thing, but after we explored their circumstances and options, they wanted something different, or at the very least, they came away with extended provisions to cover circumstances not previously considered.
A common mistake is to only consider the expected, rather than the unexpected, for example, making the assumption that you will always be survived by the younger generation.
Given that many people spend their lives trying to save money and provide for their families, it seems strange that someone might not wish to pay a reasonably small sum of money to have a well thought out and professionally drafted Will to ensure their circumstances are considered and the right people benefit, especially given the expense and problems that could arise from getting it wrong.
3. Talk to Your Family
Discussing your wishes with your family in advance is a great way of reducing the possibility of arguments after you've gone. Having an open discussion about what you are planning to do allows for your loved ones to ask you questions and understand your reasons for making certain decisions in your Will.
One area which can cause particular issues after death is the distribution of your personal belongings, items of sentimental value, rather than monetary value can be very problematic, particularly if your will simply divides your belongings 'in equal shares'. There are many areas you will need to consider in your Will. At Co-op Legal Services, your Will writer will discuss these with you in detail, since everyone's circumstances are different.
4. Think about Legacies & Beneficiaries
Making a Will enables you to give gifts (Legacies) to specific people. These may be particular possessions or sums of money. Making a Will also allows you to state which people and/or charities (Beneficiaries) will benefit from the remainder of your estate.
However you need to bear in mind that, once the beneficiary receives their inheritance, it forms part of their estate and will pass in accordance with their Will. This is important because you cannot assume what that person's Will is going to state.
A simple example would be taking a married couple John and Jane, they have 1 child. They have decided in their Wills to leave their estates to each other upon death and then when the survivor dies, the estate passes to their child. However, let's say John dies leaving his estate to Jane. Some years later Jane then decides to marry Peter. Jane could decide to write a new Will leaving her estate to Peter and excluding the child she had with John. This may not be what John wanted!
It is possible to protect against this scenario by using a trust structure in the Will that would allow Jane to benefit from John's assets after he's gone but prevents Jane from gifting them elsewhere under her Will.
5. Decide Who Will Look after Your Children
Lastly, you can appoint a Guardian who will look after any children under the age of 18 in the event of your death. This is a hugely important decision, and one that should be made in discussion with the person in question as well as other family members, as appropriate.
We also suggest you consider the religious, moral and ethical beliefs of the proposed Guardian as well as their age. They may be young enough to raise your children at the time the Will is written but what if they were appointed 10 years later – would they be able to cope with raising a teenager for example?
At Co-op Legal services, our Single Wills start from £125 +VAT (£150).