Death – particularly our own – is an unpleasant subject that most of us would rather avoid discussing. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that one in three people die without leaving a will, according to HSBC. This is a huge mistake.
The only way to guarantee that on death your assets end up in the hands of your intended beneficiaries is to write a will. Otherwise, Britain’s arcane intestacy rules kick in. These can result in your assets being left to your parents or siblings, rather than the person you’ve shared your life with and any children you have. At the very least, you risk leaving an administrative nightmare behind for your loved ones, which is the last thing they’ll need.
So what should you consider when putting your will together? As a rule of thumb, you want assets to pass down a family tree (for example, from parent to child), or at worst, across it (say to siblings appointed as guardians to your children). You don’t really want assets to pass upwards to your parents, as, unless they need the money, this can trigger an unwanted inheritance tax bill on their death.
You should also make clear who is to be appointed as your executor (the person who will take responsibility for making sure the terms of your will are adhered to) and who will be the legal guardian of your children. Naturally, you should discuss this with the candidates first!
A relatively straightforward pair of wills drawn up by a couple should only run to a few pages, won’t take up huge amounts of your time, and if you have them done as a 'mirror' pair by a solicitor, it won’t cost you a fortune either (I had mine done recently by a firm of Yorkshire solicitors for £75 each).
Next, beware cowboy will writers. In theory anyone can draft a will, but the Legal Services Board reckons as many as one in five wills are “riddled with errors” or are invalid.
So our advice would be to use a regulated will writer (solicitors are covered by the Solicitors Regulation Authority) if your assets are complex, based overseas and/or you want to make detailed provisions on death.
If your affairs are simple, check first whether you get a will included with your home insurance policy or bank account. Otherwise, a decent bet is the Consumer Association Which? service or one of the many charity will-writing schemes. Do make a donation if you use the latter.