The most important thing you can do in your lifetime, to ease the pain for your friends and family when you die, is to write a will.
This document details what is to happen to your assets and possessions after you die. It can also specify critical things, such as who would be the legal guardians of your children, grandchildren or any other dependants in such unfortunate circumstances.
What are the risks of not having prepared a will?
Family arguments at an already stressful and emotional time
The most important reason for leaving a will is to ensure that your wishes are respected when you die. It typically avoids unpleasant arguments amongst family members and friends. If you die without a will, the legal term is to have died ‘intestate’, a horrible word, surpassed only by the difficulty that your friends and family will have in dealing with your estate. There are specific legal rules as to what would happen to your assets and care of any dependents if you were to die intestate. At best, this means your estate may not be distributed as you would wish, a particular concern for any step-children or couples who are not married. At worst, if you have no relatives, The Crown could end up with your assets. That’s why it’s so important to have a legally binding will, even if you want to leave your entire estate to charity.
Your family could miss out on lost assets
The other really handy thing that a will does, is to document what your assets are and where to find them. As well as saving your family many frustrating hours of having to sort through reams of paperwork, it also prevents them from missing things. Research estimates that in the absence of a will, families miss out on an average of nearly £10,000 in lost assets.
Unnecessary tax charges
Another thing worth noting is that for anyone with assets over the inheritance tax threshold of £325,000, the way the intestacy rules work is almost always not going to be the most efficient way for your estate to be distributed from a tax perspective – meaning that your friends and family could be left with less than you intended due to an unnecessary tax charge. You can find out more about how inheritance tax works in our guide What is inheritance tax?
Who will be managing your estate?
As well as specifying who will receive your assets when you die (your beneficiaries), you need to specify who will take responsibility for managing your estate and carrying out your wishes after your death (your executors). It’s important that you nominate people whose integrity you completely trust and who are capable of managing what can be a stressful process at times. Due to the responsibility placed on them, it’s advisable that you check that they are happy to act on your behalf before you nominate them in your will. Find out more about the role of an executor in our guide What is an executor?
Once it has been written
After your will has been written, you should review it every five years, or sooner if you go through any major life changes (for example, getting divorced, having children or grandchildren, or moving house). You should make sure you keep your will in a safe place and be sure to let your executors know where to find the original version.
How to get started
You can write a will yourself, but it usually makes sense to get legal advice to make sure that the will is legally binding and that your wishes will be followed correctly. It doesn’t cost much and there are a number of providers that can help.
Your local family solicitors can often be a good place to start, however, be clear on what the costs will be before you engage them as they can be anywhere between £99 and £1,000+ depending on the solicitor and the complexity of your estate. You can find a list of local solicitors that specialise in wills on the Law Society website.
For anyone with relatively straightforward wishes, it is becoming increasingly popular to create a legally binding will online. There are a number of very highly rated online services that allow you to do this in a cost efficient manner, from the comfort of your own home – before simply printing and signing the document.
However you choose to create or update your will, the important thing is that you do so. None of us like to think about dying, and with ever increasing life expectancy, most of us can look forward to decades of active years ahead. But the time and cost of creating one is almost always a small price to pay for peace of mind, and to avoid having that nagging feeling hanging over you.
For more information on writing a will you can visit the Government website.
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