What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document in which you state what you would like to happen to your estate. Your estate consists of your house (less any outstanding mortgage or other loans secured on it), cash and savings, your car, household and personal effects, proceeds from any life assurance policies and pensions where there isn’t a named beneficiary or the plans are not written in trust LESS any outstanding loans, credit card balances, household bills, funeral expenses, etc.
If the gross value of the total estate is less than £5,000 (England and Wales) or £25,000 before debts (Scotland) it is called a “small estate” and can be distributed without a Grant of Probate or Confirmation of the Estate.
However, it doesn’t matter how little you think you are worth, it is important that you make a Will. Without a Will, your relatives and friends could face severe difficulties. And, although you may not like it, if you don’t make a Will the law will decide for you, which may not be what you would have wished. You must sign and date your Will in the presence of two witnesses (England and Wales) or one witness (Scotland).
You must appoint an executor in your Will to ensure the terms of your Will are carried out. Sometimes one executor is sufficient but where there are potential beneficiaries who are not yet 18, then two executors are advisable. The executor’s role is explained further below.
Your Will is an invaluable opportunity for you to clearly let your intentions be known relating to:
- Who you wish to act as executor of your Will
- Who you wish to act as guardian of your children and how you wish to provide for your children’s upkeep
- How you would like your funeral conducted
- Whether you wish to donate your organs or donate your body for medical research
- Provisions to reduce death duties (Inheritance Tax)
- How to provide for your pets or favourite charity
- Who you wish to receive what of your personal items, investments and or property. Whether the gift has real value like your house or only has sentimental value like a watch or wedding ring.
What happens if I don’t make a Will?
Making a Will is relatively straightforward and not very expensive. However, in spite of this, seven out of ten people in the UK die without a Will. This often causes delays, hardship and worry – and even costly legal bills can result if there is confusion and disagreement among those left behind.
Should you die without a Will or if your Will is deemed to be invalid (e.g. if it wasn’t completed or signed correctly) then you are said to have died intestate.
This results in the law deciding who gets what of your estate. However, there is one set of rules for Scotland and another set of rules for England and Wales.
What is an executor?
One very important part of your Will is the naming of who you would like to act as your executor. Your executor is the person who will administer your Will after your death. They can be anyone you choose, for example:
- Your husband, wife or partner
- Your son or daughter (if over 18 at the time of your death)
- Your brother or sister
- A close friend
- A beneficiary in your Will
- A solicitor, bank or your accountant
As a courtesy, it is always best to ask the person whom you wish to appoint whether they are willing to act. The duties of an executor are varied and can be very time consuming. As a result, people chosen to be executors, when called upon to act, often appoint a professional firm to help. The costs and expenses incurred by executors, including the professional firm’s fees, however, can be recouped from the estate.
The responsibilities of an executor include:
- Finding out what assets, property and investments the deceased had
- Having any valuables and property professionally valued
- Listing them and their current value
- Making sure the funeral takes place and arranging payment
- Gaining details of outstanding debts and bills
- Establishing pension entitlements and other monies due
- Determining Income and Inheritance Taxes due and making any necessary tax returns
- Completing and submitting all Probate Registry forms
- Calling in assets
- Paying off debts
- Transferring gifts to beneficiaries
- Drawing up clear accounts to present to the main beneficiaries
If the Will creates any trusts, for example if there are minor beneficiaries, it is usual to appoint two trustees (they can be the same as the executors unless the trust is an IOU Discretionary Will Trust in which case we recommend that the trustees should not also be executors).
When should I make a Will?
If you live in Scotland you can make a Will from the age of 12, however, in England and Wales the age is 18.
Making a Will is particularly important if you are anticipating marriage or a civil partnership, having a child, getting divorced or remarried. Also, buying a property or having assets or investments that you would like to decide in advance who gets what.
In England and Wales, your Will becomes invalid when you become married or enter into a civil partnership, unless the Will clearly stated that it was written in anticipation of you marrying or entering into a civil partnership with a named person.
If you become divorced then your former spouse or civil partner, if included in your Will, would be treated as having died before. Therefore, if your previous Will said that everything was to go to your spouse but if he/she died before you then everything was to go to your children. Now you are divorced, your former spouse will be ignored (treated as having predeceased you) and, in this example, everything will go to your children.
Every five years you should review your Will. Changes that should trigger a review of your Will include any changes in your financial, marital or emotional circumstances. Your family and friendships can change and your Will ought to reflect these changes.
You can either draw up a new Will or add clauses to your existing Will through a codicil. Drawing up a new Will is more advisable and may be no more expensive. If you draw up a new Will you will need to destroy the old one so as to avoid confusion in the future.
With Will Drafters, should you choose the more comprehensive WillPlus service then any future changes to your Will are completely free of charge. And each time a totally new Will is written for you. This thereby avoids the need for a separate and sometimes contentious codicil.
Where should I keep the Will?
Once your choice of executor has agreed to act it is important that you remember to tell them where you are going to keep the Will. It is also advisable to let them know in writing so that they have a record that they can file away for future reference.
If you have asked Will Drafters to draw up your Will and taken advantage of its comprehensive WillPlus service then Will Drafters will take care of this for you. Not only will it look after your Will after you have signed it but it will also write to any people you have nominated, including the executors, to let them know the Will is being safely stored by them.
If your Will can’t be found at the time of your death then it may be deemed not to exist. So putting it somewhere safe and letting people know where is very important.
Please note that this service is not regulated by the Financial Services Authority.