Making a will enables you to:
- Ensure that your property and possessions, known as "your estate," are inherited by the individuals of your choosing.
- Appoint the person or people you desire to handle your affairs after you die, referred to as "your executors".
- Choose people to care for your children until they turn eighteen, known as "testamentary guardians," and establish trusts for their benefit.
- Potentially minimise the amount of inheritance tax that will be imposed upon your death.
- Make specific monetary donations to friends, relatives, and charitable organisations.
To find a specialist will lawyer near you, visit our find a lawyer page.
What happens if you don’t have a Will?
If you die without a will, the distribution of your estate is determined by a set of regulations known as the intestacy rules. These rules prioritise specific family members but do not consider your wishes regarding friends or charitable organisations. Consequently, without a will, you relinquish control over the allocation of your estate, potentially excluding individuals and causes that hold significance to you.
Without a will in place, you could cause your family financial hardship, worry and even costly legal bills if there is any confusion or disagreement after your death.
At what age should you make a will?
Many people believe that creating a will is something you do when you’re old. However, the truth is that you are never too young to start considering the importance of drafting a will. Irrespective of your age, having a will is crucial for safeguarding the interests of your loved ones and ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your preferences.
For a will to be valid, the person making the will must be aged 18 or over and have mental capacity (that is the ability to understand they are making a will and its effects, understand the extent of their property, and be aware of potential claims against their estate). The person making the will must not be “unduly influenced” (meaning that they must not have been persuaded, pressured, or manipulated into making a decision they might not have made on their own) – which is one of the reasons why members of The Association of Lifetime Lawyers insist on seeing their clients alone for at least some of the time.
The process of making a will
The pre-planning and discussions conducted prior to the creation of a will are significant aspects of the process.
The will itself serves as a document that encompasses all your wishes, ensuring that your affairs are properly organised and granting you peace of mind.
By having a will, you can enable the tax-efficient transfer of your estate and safeguard assets for your family and future generations, even in the face of changing circumstances such as death, divorce, bankruptcy, or the need for long-term care. It is crucial that your will is in written form and signed by you (or by someone on your behalf, under your direction) in the presence of two impartial witnesses.
Writing a will is of important for all adults, particularly in the following circumstances:
- If you and your partner are not married – in the UK, the law does not recognise partners in the same way it does husbands, wives, and civil partners. This means that even if you have been living together for an extended period, your partner may receive nothing if you pass away without a will.
- If you have children – without a will, there can be uncertainty regarding the guardianship of your children and who will provide for them. It is crucial to ensure that they are placed in the care of trusted individuals who will treat them as you would have done and fulfil their needs.
- If multiple individuals depend on you financially – in such cases, each dependent may potentially make a claim on your estate. Writing a will allows you to specify how your assets should be distributed, ensuring that each dependent receives their appropriate share. Dependents include not only children under the age of 18, but anyone who relies on your financial support and care. This could include vulnerable adults you’re caring for, such as parents, partners or other relatives.
- If you choose to exclude a beneficiary, providing an explanation in the will in a statement kept with the will, can help prevent disputes and misunderstandings.
Furthermore, the following categories of individuals should especially prioritise creating a will:
- Business owners, especially if the business is a partnership.
- Co-habiting couples who are not married or in a civil partnership.
- Individuals who have multiple partners, regardless of marital or civil partnership status.
- Single people with no close relatives, such as parents, siblings, or immediate family members.
- Those who wish to make specific gifts to charities or friends.
By creating a will, you can provide legal clarity and protection for your partner, children, and dependents, ensuring that your wishes are honoured, and their well-being is secured.
Things to consider when making your will
- You are probably worth more than you think; making a list of your assets with a rough estimate of their value prior to meeting with your lawyer can help to save time and may present some tax planning possibilities (you can find out more about tax planning here)
- You will need someone to be your executor. This person gathers in your assets, pays off your debts and distributes the balance in accordance with your will. You may appoint the partners of a solicitor’s firm as your executors if you wish, though this isn’t necessary, you can simply instruct a firm to help you with the administration.
- You will need someone to be the testamentary guardians of your minor children; these will be the people responsible for providing care, making decisions about your children's upbringing, and ensuring their well-being until they reach the age of eighteen.
- Who will look after your pets, and do you want to leave them money for doing so?
- Do you wish to give a specific item or sum of money to someone (i.e., a friend or relative) or to a charity?
- What do you want to happen to your business assets or the shares in your company?
- Do you want to give a child or other relative or partner a right to remain living in your house?
- What do you want to happen with the rest of your estate? Is this to go to your surviving spouse or your partner? If not, how do you wish to have the rest of your estate divided?
After you’ve made your will
After creating your will, it is essential to regularly review and update it to ensure that it aligns with your current wishes. It’s recommended that your will should be reviewed at least every five years. You should also review your will if any significant events have occurred particularly births, deaths and decisions to marry, divorce, form or dissolve UK civil partnerships, or if you or a beneficiary have undergone gender reassignment.
By periodically reviewing your will, you can make certain that it accurately reflects your desired distribution of assets and the inclusion of any new beneficiaries. This practice helps ensure that your wishes are upheld and reduces the likelihood of any unintended consequences in the future.
Don’t leave anything to chance! Contact a member of The Association of Lifetime Lawyers today to help guide you through the process of making a will and protecting your family and your assets.