This autumn you should get your will sorted, to make sure your money, property and belongings go to whoever you want when you pass
How often do you think about death? Hopefully not too often. But I want you to make an exception today. I want you to imagine what will happen when you do pass. Not the how, the why or the when of it happening, but what happens after. And since this is a money column, I want you to focus on the finances.
At first it might seem pretty simple, but the more you think about it, the more complicated it can become.
Who will get what?
Do you see everything passing over to your partner? Or maybe your kids and grandkids? Is it evenly split or do your wishes involve different amounts of money or assets for different people? Will they get the money now, or when they’re older? Will it pass to your partner first, and then to others?
Do you want to ensure dependents are protected for a while, perhaps something that says they can stay in your home until a specified time? And what about debts? How will they be paid? Could that force the estate you leave to be split, or your home sold?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Now you can just tell your family what you want, but sadly the law might not agree.
Legal problems without a will
For a start, if you have a partner but aren’t married or in a civil partnership then they have no legal right to anything in your name. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a couple or if you have kids together. They’ll get nothing. They might even be forced out of their home.
Likewise other wishes about where things go don’t have to be honoured by whoever is in charge of your estate.
"Your next of kin could receive the lot, even if they’re no longer part of your life or an ex who you’ve not divorced"
If you have children under the age of 18 (and the other parent is also dead) it’ll be up to the courts to decide who looks after them—and that might not be who you want to have custody.
You could even end up in a situation where your next of kin receive the lot, even if they’re no longer part of your life or an ex who you’ve not divorced.
And there are rules around tax allowances too that only pass from you to your partner, children or grandchildren. So it might be the nice little nest egg you think your niece will receive could be decimated by HMRC.
The admin headache
Even if these issues aren’t a concern, there's also the admin headache to think about. The burden, good and bad, will fall on those nearest and dearest to you.
At a time when they’ll be processing their grief, they’ll also have to deal with everything else. If it’s all a jumbled mess, it’s likely things could get lost, or unexpected consequences could occur that cause financial distress for your loved ones. There could even be legal costs if there’s a fight about who gets what.
Get a will to make things clear
Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Get a will. Do this properly and your money, property and belongings will be given to who you want. You’ll be able to stipulate how much and who. You’ll be able to put in place specific wishes you want to be followed.
You’ll also be able to think about inheritance tax, and whether there are ways to reduce it.
"Get a will done properly and your money, property and belongings will be given to who you want"
It all seems pretty obvious. But scarily, 59% of people in the UK don’t currently have a will, according to Will Aid charities. That’s a hefty number.
Different options for getting a will
1. Via a solicitor
So how do you go about changing this? Well there are a few ways to get a will drawn up. The best is probably to go via a solicitor. They’re regulated and insured so the legal document you produce with them should stand up if anyone challenges it.
These will also be the most expensive, and the more complicated they are, the more they’ll cost. One way to save, while also doing something for a good cause, is to take part in either the Will Aid or Free Wills Month campaigns. Both will get you a “simple will” for a donation to charity.
2. Simple will
A simple will is one where you leave everything to just a few people, whether friends, family or a mix.
"A simple will won't include tax advice, overseas assets or powers of attorney, but for most people that's more than enough"
You won’t be able to include any complicated tax advice, overseas assets and things like powers of attorney. But for most people that’s more than enough.
3. Will Aid
Will Aid runs in November each year, though you can book with participating solicitors from September onwards. You can give what you want but they suggest £100 for a single will and £180 for a couple (this is a “Mirror” will that does the same but with the names reversed).
4. Free Wills Month
Free Wills Month is a little different as it’s only for those over 55 years old (or when in a couple, one person is over this age). This takes place twice a year in March and October.
There are also a number of other free or subsidised will schemes run by charities themselves. These include Cancer Research UK and The Children’s Hospital.
5. Will writing service
Alternatively you can use a will writing service. Most aren’t regulated, but if you only need to make some simple requests that hopefully won’t be an issue further down the line. They’ll still count as your final wishes—as long as they comply with the law. Moneysavingexpert recommend Which? And Farewill.
6. Write something yourself
A final option is to write something yourself—though you need to be aware that this could easily be challenged. Really this is for the most basic will where you want to leave everything to your partner or your child. Just make sure it’s witnessed by two independent adults that aren’t listed in the will itself.
Whichever you go for, make sure you keep an eye on it—you can add codicils or updates if your situation changes in the coming years.
Exclusive Reader Offer: If you are making a will and want support, as a Reader's Digest customer, you can write one with Which? and get a 20% discount.
Banner photo: Drazen Zigic
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