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a willWritten by
Freelance financial journalist and former deputy personal
finance editor of the Telegraph and the Daily MailIt's never easy to think about our own mortality – but we owe it to our families and our own peace of mind to do so. And if there's one thing any of us can do to ensure our families' futures after we've gone, then it's writing a will.
Why make a will?Amazingly, even though a simple will can cost less than £100, it is estimated that 58% of UK adults don't have one. That means more than 28 million adults risk their home, money and other possessions being divided among possibly long-forgotten distant relatives.Even though a simple will can cost less than £100, it is estimated that 58% of UK adults don't have one.So if it isn't the cost that's putting us off then why do so many of us not have this essential document? If you've young children then it's important to write a will to ensure they are looked after if you die – to ensure that your wishes are known should one or both parents die.
And it's particularly important that you have a will if you're living as unmarried partners. Unlike with married couples or those in civil partnerships, you have no automatic right of inheritance at all if your partner dies intestate. So a will allows you to make sure your partner is left what you want them to receive.
David and MariaDavid Brooks and his partner Maria Walsh have been living together for 20 years, own a property together and have several valuable cars as well as a whole menagerie of animals. Yet the couple, who are in their forties, have not written wills.Getting a will isn't difficult but it's a good idea to do your homework now before proceeding."I suppose there have always been other things to spend the money on" says David, a mechanic. "And as we haven't got children, it just doesn't seem a priority".
But the couple, who live in Hampshire, both have nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters. Were one of them to die without writing a will – a state known as dying intestate – then as they aren't married or in a civil partnership, under intestacy rules their estate would pass to their brothers and sisters followed by their nieces and nephews. The surviving partner could have to sell their jointly-owned home to keep within the intestacy rules.
Maria, a veterinary nurse, said: "When you think that could happen, then I can see that we should get our act together and make wills. I'd also like to make sure our animals are cared for properly in case of our deaths – and there are some local charities I'm keen to help out with a bequest".Do your
homeworkGetting a will isn't difficult but it's a good idea to do your homework now before proceeding. While you could write your own will and have it witnessed, that's risky: a badly written will can cause problems. An often-cited case is that of the will written more than 100 years ago which simply stated 'All to mother'. The problem was, the will writer called his wife mother as well as his parent: the will was understandably contested.
Lorraine and GeoffLorraine and Geoff King from Sussex have written wills – but their primary reason was not to divide up their assets but ensure their daughter Lily is cared for should anything happen to them.It's a comfort for both us and them knowing that there won't be any confusion should we die.Lorraine, a beautician, explains: “Lily is only eight but we're older parents – we're in our late forties – so we have to think about her future. We've both got elderly parents living but I really want Lily to be brought up by my brother and his wife should anything happen to us. They've got children of similar ages, while Geoff's sister has no children and his brother lives abroad”.
The couple visited a solicitor and have left all their assets to Lily in trust, but have appointed Lorraine's brother as the child's guardian in their wills, as well as making him and Geoff's sister trustees of Lily's inheritance until she is grown up.
Lorraine said: “It means that we have the comfort of knowing that Lily will be in just the right family environment if we die. Our families are happy too. I know it sounds odd, but it's a comfort for both us and them knowing that there won't be any confusion should we die”.Making
mirror willsIf you're part of a couple, you might want mirror wills – where you make identical wills. So, for example Mr A's will might say (in more technical language) “I give everything to my wife on death but if she dies before me it goes to the children” while Mrs A's would say: “I give everything to my husband, but if he dies before me it goes to the children”.
What's next?Once you've done your homework, you need to decide who will write your will. You could do it yourself with a kit from a stationers or the internet but this is risky as even a small mistake could mean your will is contested or invalid.Whatever you do, don't just forget about a will once it's written. You should check it at least every five years or more often if your circumstances change.It's better to use a professional. You could use a will writing service or a solicitor – a simple will should cost less than £100. Some charities or unions offer free will writing. A will is not valid unless it is witnessed. You'll need two people who aren't mentioned in your will to sign and witness it – your solicitor may arrange this for you.
Once signed and witnessed, you need to find a safe home for this valuable document. Your solicitor may keep a copy for you and you might want to scan a copy of your will to keep on your hard drive. You could also keep a copy safe at home and give a copy to a trusted friend or family member.
Whatever you do, don't just forget about a will once it's written. You should check it at least every five years or more often if your circumstances change – i.e. if you remarry or have children – to see if it still reflects your wishes.If you only need to make small changes, then these can be made with a codicil – a simple legal document which allows you to make changes to your existing will. You might, for example, decide to benefit a newly-favoured charity – the easy way to do this is with a codicil. But major changes are going to merit a new will.
What have you got?
Sit down and make a list of your assets – your house; car; money in savings accounts; investments and other possessions such as jewellery and ornaments.
Who do you want to benefit?
Children, partners, charities and friends may all merit a bequest.
How will it be divided?
Decide how you want your assets apportioned.
Any special requests?
Do you want to make any special requests such as who would look after your children if you die, what would happen to pets and even what sort of funeral you'd like?
Choose your executors
You'll need to choose executors – people who will make sure the wishes in your will are carried out.
Intestacy rules and understanding inheritance tax and probate.
Find out more about specialist will writers – as opposed to solicitors – represented by the Society of Will Writers.
Work out the value of your main asset using a house price calculator.
Bizarre bequestsMost people use their wills to benefit family, friends and charities. But some use them to indulge their obsessions from beyond the grave.Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury requested that his ashes be scattered by a satellite orbiting earth.American lawyer John Bowman demanded dinner was prepared every night and his home maintained until his family was reincarnated. They weren't.William Shakespeare's will declared that his wife Anne Hathaway be left his ‘second best bed'. What she thought has not been recorded. American comedian Jack Benny left a florist a large sum of money so his wife Mary would get a rose every day.Singer Dusty Springfield left instructions that her cat be fed baby food and be played her songs.
Escapologist Harry Houdini requested that a séance should be held every year on the anniversary of his death. He left a secret code to show whether he could communicate from the other side. It never came up.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.