How to Write a Will
If you do not have a Will the government will decide who inherits your possessions, property and money. Who inherits your estate will be decided by the Law of Intestacy (1925) and as you can imagine they are unlikely to divide your assets in the way you would choose.
Anyone can make a Will as long as they meet these two basic requirements:
- You are at least 18 years old,
- You are of sound mind.
How to write a Will. If you have not made a Will before there are a number of considerations, namely:
You should start by making a list of all your assets such as cash, investments, property, vehicles, insurance policies, businesses you own, pensions and any other personal possessions of value.
An executor is someone you have named in your Will as the person you would like to be responsible for handling your affairs after your death. Being an executor involves a considerable amount of work, and includes the following responsibilities:
- Dealing with all the paperwork relating to the estate
- Gathering all the assets of the estate
- Ensuring all the debts, bills and taxes are paid out of the money in your estate
- Distributing the remainder of your estate in accordance with your will
- Holding assets or money ‘in trust’ for a beneficiary
When choosing an executor, bear in mind the following considerations:
- Two are better than one
- Ideally one of the executors should be younger than you
- Your executor should be responsible and able to handle the legal and administrative burden involved in dealing with your estate
- If you are married or in a civil partnership it would be normal to appoint your spouse
- If your children are over 18 they can be also appointed
A Guardian is someone you have named in your Will as the person you would like to be responsible for your children if they are orphaned before reaching the age of 18.If you fail to appoint Guardians in your Will and both parents die before the children reach 18, the courts will appoint Guardians instead, but they won’t necessarily appoint the people that you would have preferred to take care of your children.
Being a Guardian means taking on a significant duty of care for your surviving children. The role of Guardian can also involve considerable expense, and you should consider making arrangements for this in drawing up your Will, particularly in relation to setting out Trusts and appointing Trustees.
Inheritance Tax is the tax payable on the value of the estate of someone who has died. It is charged at a rate of 40% on the portion of the estate over the ‘threshold level’, currently £325,000. It is possible to minimise the amount of Inheritance Tax (IHT) that will be payable on your death, by becoming familiar with the rules of how IHT is calculated and organising your finances and your Will accordingly.
A Trust is an arrangement set up by Will or Deed in which money, property or other assets are held and managed by the appointed Trustees on behalf of the named beneficiaries.A Trust is usually set up when a person writing a Will has children under the age of 18. Doing so allows for your money, property and assets to be looked after properly until your surviving children are old enough in the eyes of the law to take responsibility for them. When you set up a Trust in your Will, you must also appoint Trustees who will become responsible for managing the assets in accordance with your instructions as stated in your Will.
The distribution of your assets
Your assets are everything you own, including houses, land, overseas property, cash, stocks and shares and other investments, jewellery, antiques, household contents and other personal possessions. While you may leave your assets to anyone you wish, you should be aware that the Provision for Family and Dependants Act 1975 requires that, wherever possible, you should leave enough to your dependants for them to live on. If you have family or friends who are financially dependent on you and write a Will that leaves everything to another beneficiary, your Will may be challenged in the courts, and may be declared invalid.
If you want to leave gifts of money to a beneficiary/beneficiaries, there are various ways to go about it.
By giving a lump sum, known as capital. You can do this in a number of ways:
- by naming your intended beneficiary (e.g. your partner/child) as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy,
- by stating in your Will that you would like the beneficiary to receive the money in your savings accounts,
- by stating in your Will that you wish to leave the beneficiary a percentage of your estate.
By arranging a regular income, also known as life interest. You can do this in one of the following ways:
- by arranging for the beneficiary to receive income from your pension,
- by leaving the beneficiary an investment that pays out regular profits, e.g. bonds, investment funds,
- by leaving the beneficiary some assets in a Trust that pays them a regular income.
Cash gifts you leave to charity are not subject to Inheritance Tax; your will needs to state the exact name, address and registered charity number.
Within your Will you can make known your wishes for your funeral, for example, whether you want to be buried or cremated, where you want the funeral to take place, and any specific hymns or readings you would like included.
By making a Will, you can ensure that the desired recipients of your assets gain access to them far more quickly than if there is no Will in place. This means that they can use any money you have set aside for funeral costs or inheritance you have left them to pay for the funeral arrangements, without having to use their own money.
Writing your Will
Although it is possible to write your own Will, this is generally not advisable as there are various legal formalities that must be followed to ensure that the Will is valid. Without an expert’s help, there is a risk that you could make a mistake that could cause problems for your family and friends after your death.
Signing the Will
Once the Will has been drawn up it is not effective until it has been signed. There are several rules affecting the signature process which if not correctly followed, will make your Will invalid. For example witnesses and their husbands, wives or civil partners cannot benefit under the Will. Many people use staff in this office as their witnesses to avoid this problem.
Keeping your Will up to date
You should review your Will every five years and after any major life change such as getting separated, married or divorced, having children or moving house. It is possible to make minor changes to your existing Will by way of a Codicil.