If the time’s come for you to start thinking about your will but you just don’t know where to start, then this article’s got all the basics you need to know.
Thinking about your will isn’t exactly the most upbeat of life tasks, but it isn’t one that should be ignored either - regardless of whether or not you decide to go ahead and actually write one.
Although it’s not a legal requirement to make a will, there are a number of important reasons to have one in place, and we’ll cover each of these in this article - along with how and when to get your paperwork in motion.
What is a will?
When you pass away, your will tells everyone what you’ve asked to happen to your money, property and possessions - otherwise known as your ‘estate’. Without a will, you have no control over what happens to your estate when you’re gone and, instead, the law decides how they’re passed on. The main drawback to this is that they might not be shared out how you’d like.
As well as drawing out who gets what, your will can also include information on things like what kind of funeral you’d like and who you want to raise your children (if you have any), too.
Why should I write a will?
There are several reasons writing a will makes sense, like:
1. It’ll help to make the process of sorting your estate out much easier for your loved ones. Having a written record of how you want your money, property and possessions to be passed on makes distributing them less stressful and time-consuming - something everyone will appreciate during an already upsetting time.
2. As we touched on a little earlier up, if you don’t have a will, everything you own will be divided up in a standard way defined by the law - which might not reflect your personal wishes. So, by having a will lined up, you can be certain your estate is shared out exactly how you want it to be.
3. The third advantage of having a will is that it can help to reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that might be payable on the money and property you leave behind. For a closer look at Inheritance Tax and its thresholds, head over here.
4. If you have children or any other family members who rely on you financially, having a will gives you both peace of mind they’ll get what’s rightfully theirs (under your wishes) once you’re gone.
Wills are also very important if you plan on leaving any of your money, property or possessions to people outside of your immediate family, as these individuals won’t feature if the law decides who gets what. Why? Because only spouses and blood relatives can automatically inherit anything if there’s no will.
5. As well as determining who inherits your financial assets, your will can set out who takes care of your dependents after you pass away. Without this appointment in your will, the decision could be left down to family courts, and there’s no guarantee their choice will reflect yours.
6. If you’re not married to your partner, they’re not actually legally entitled to anything from your estate - regardless of how long you’ve been a couple. However, having a will allows you to sidestep that legal loophole and make sure they receive your desired share of your estate.
When do I need to write a will?
In England and Wales you can write a legally valid will from the age of 18, and in Scotland you can get a head start at the age of 12.
There’s no ‘right’ age to write your will and it’ll vary for everyone depending on a number of factors. For example, some might choose to think about their will once they’ve had kids, others when they get onto the property ladder, for some an illness might spark the need, and others something completely different again.
If you have people who rely on you financially, and you don’t already have a will written up, perhaps now would be a good time to look into one.
And, if you’re worried your wishes might change between now and when you pass, worry not. If you change your mind after you’ve written your first will, you can make changes to it with what’s called a ‘codicil’ - an official alteration.
You can add as many codicils as you like to your will, but each must be signed and witnessed in the same way as your original will.
How do I write a will?
Writing your will doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few simple steps to get you going:
1. First things first, work out how much your estate is worth by creating a list of your assets (your property, life insurance, savings or vehicles etc., for example) and debts (like a mortgage, unpaid loan or outstanding credit card balance).
2. Decide who gets what when you pass away, and remember to think about what you want to happen if any of those people die before you, too.
3. Choose and name your executors. Executors are the people who’ll handle sharing out your estate once you’re no longer around and the role can involve a lot of work and responsibility, so pick your people carefully.
4. Next up is the actual writing of the will. You have a few options here in that you could turn to a lawyer, professional will writer, charity or bank (not all banks offer this, but some do), or, you could write it yourself.
If you do decide to write it yourself, it’s super important to make sure it’s signed correctly and therefore legally valid - which involves having an independent witness around for the signing of the document.
5. Last but not least, store your will in a safe place (like with a solicitor, bank or in a safe at home) and remember to let your executors know where it’s being housed.
Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.