Writing a will? 5 questions you need to answer
What have I got and where do I want it to pass?
It’s crucial to understand what you’ve got and who you want to pass it to before you write your will. Think property, bank accounts, investments, shares, life policies (if not written in trust or nominated) and whether you have any special items you want to pass anywhere particular.
Consider whether you have control over where these assets will pass, or whether that is pre-determined by the way in which you own them. Jointly owned property and bank accounts, for example, automatically pass to a surviving co-owner.
It’s also important to consider if there is anywhere you would rather your wealth didn’t pass to.
What is an executor and who should I appoint?
An executor is responsible for finalising your legal affairs after your death. The role can be relatively straightforward, but can also be incredibly complicated and time-consuming.
Executors carry a legal responsibility to do the job properly, and can be liable for any loss resulting from their failure to do so. For this reason, most people would be wise to choose an executor with the appropriate level of expertise as well as insurance to protect them.
If you have an existing will, check who is appointed as executor. In the past, many high street providers have appointed their own organisation without the explicit instruction of their client, leading many people to be surprised when reviewing their will some years later.
The fees for a professional can be very high, sometimes a percentage of the estate plus an hourly rate. You should look for certainty around the charging structure and satisfy yourself that it represents value.
Should I appoint a guardian for my children?
If you have children who are minors, you will probably have strong feelings about who is best placed to care for them in the event of your death.
An unmarried father doesn’t always have automatic parental responsibility, so an appointment in the mother’s will is important.
Furthermore, parents who wish to appoint other family or friends in the event of both of their deaths should make that appointment in their will.
Should my will protect my wealth, or just pass it on?
Many people simply use their will as a way of passing on the fruits of their labour. But what if there is little left to leave?
Events beyond your control, both during your lifetime and after your death, can have a dramatic impact on the inheritance your beneficiaries receive. A trust within your will could help provide protection from the common threats of care fees, divorce and remarriage of a spouse—all of which see wealth pass somewhere other than intended.
Can I do this myself, or should I use a professional?
Lawyers like homemade wills because they can charge to sort out the problems they cause. Consider this—your will deals with everything you’ve ever worked for. Some might consider using a professional the only option.