Most of us, (74% according to the Law Society), don’t think much about making a Will. There’s plenty of time for thinking about that in the future. The future, though, has a habit of creeping up on us. Kids grow fast and years whizz by, and if we don’t take control, time can run away with us. There’s no better time than the present to make a Will and safeguard your children’s future inheritance, so here are five quick tips to make the whole thing a bit easier.
- Document Your Estate
We tend to minimise the value of the estate we build up over a lifetime. Even small, personal possessions can run into many thousands of pounds, on top of which are investments, houses, business interests, savings, pensions and digital property.
Digital and intellectual properties in particular are easily disregarded. It’s not just about safeguarding royalty payments from publishing agreements, it’s also everyday social media accounts. Who will take ownership of them, and have access to all the family history they often contain? If you don’t make it clear in a Will whose hands they pass into, those accounts can be frozen and the irreplaceable contents lost.
Spare a little time to make a list of everything you own so later, when it comes to actually writing the Will, you can cover all your bases.
At the same time, you can decide on any legacies you wish to leave to charity. Legacies are a lifeline to many charitable organisations, and leaving a gift in your Will is as easy as leaving one to anyone else. Just make sure you get the name right, as charities often have similar sounding names. It’s a good idea to include their registered charity number as well as their name.
- Writing Your Will
You can go about the practicalities of getting the document written in a few different ways:
- Solicitors – often the safest way. Solicitors with experience of Will writing can make sure nothing is left out, that the wording is clear and there is no chance of misunderstanding or confusion. Simple things like names can lead to problems if there is more than one person with the same name in a family. If you don’t know of a solicitor, the Law Society website can help you find one locally who has probate expertise.
- Will Writing Services – many choose this route because it feels less formal. However, be aware that Will writing service providers are unregulated by the Law Society so there is no safeguard if problems crop up later – which they can and do. Delays, failure to follow instructions, and extra costs are just some of the complications that can result from Wills written by non-professionals. Look for one with membership in the Institute of Professional Will Writers.
- High Street Will Templates – you’ll find these in High Street shops but, again, problems can easily arise when you choose this method. Get it checked by a legal professional to make sure everything is in order.
- Make Provision for Children Under 18
Making a Will gives you control over who looks after your minor children should the worst happen. By appointing legal guardians of your choice, you know they’ll be cared for as you wish.
People often don’t realise that stepchildren are excluded from inheriting anything if they’re not named directly in a Will. With so many of us having extended families that include stepchildren, it becomes even more important that your wishes regarding them are made clear. If you don’t make a Will and name them, they’ll be excluded.
- Choosing Executors and Witnesses
Your Will must be witnessed by two people who are not included in a share of your estate. Even the smallest bequest disqualifies them so it’s important to take care in choosing.
As well as two witnesses, you must also assign executors who will take responsibility for making sure your wishes are carried out. You can ask a solicitor (useful if your estate is complicated, for instance involving trusts for children) or friends and family if matters are straightforward. Make sure you understand the charges solicitors may make to administer your estate, and that friends or family agree to your plans.
- Keeping Documents Up To Date
Writing a Will isn’t the end of the matter. Over time, circumstances change and your Will should change accordingly. Changes that may affect your estate include births, marriages, changes in finances (such as buying a house), or new investments.
You make changes by adding a codicil. The original Will remains, but has an additional document attached (the codicil) that takes precedence over your original wishes. You can make as many changes as you wish in this way.
A final action is to keep your Will in a safe place (such as with a solicitor although you can keep it at home too), and make sure everyone knows where to find it. Also make sure key people know where to find the relevant documentation so they know how to find the various parts of your estate such as bank accounts or investments.
It sounds a lot, but if you don’t take control by making a Will the government will eventually do it for you. And they may not share your wishes with regard to who inherits. In a worst-case scenario, the state could end up being your main beneficiary, and no one wants that.
Drew writes for Unicef UK. For more information about leaving a legacy in your will, please see their website.