10 August 2017
When it comes to Wills and Will-writing, we really need to sort the fact from the fiction.
There are many myths out there deterring people from writing a Will. As a result, around 60% of the UK population die without a legally valid Will in place*.
This can have serious implications for loved ones who are left behind, as the law will decide who gets what.
So it’s time to set the record straight on the 5 most common myths associated with Will-writing.
Not true! Especially as some legal services (including Co-op Legal Services) allow you to make a Will without even leaving the house.
If your circumstances and wishes are straightforward then all you need to do is decide what you’d like to include in your Will. For example, who you’d like to inherit your belongings, who you want to be responsible for carrying out the terms of your Will after your death (your Executors) and who you want to care for your children while they are under the age of 18.
If you’re not sure, you can always discuss the options with your Will-writer. Then they will do the hard work for you.
Once you’re happy, you just need to sign it in front of two independent witnesses, and ask them to sign. Then it is job done – you have a legally valid Will in place.
Lots of people assume that if they die before their partner, their partner will automatically inherit everything. But it’s not quite as simple as that.
If you’re married or in a civil partnership, your spouse will be the main beneficiary – but may not receive everything depending on your circumstances. Under the Rules of Intestacy, if you have children, married and civil partners will only receive the first £250,000 of your Estate, your personal possessions and half of the remainder of the Estate. The other half goes to your children in equal shares.
And if you’re not married or in a civil partnership, your partner is not automatically entitled to inherit anything.
There’s no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ and the Rules of Intestacy do not provide for couples who are not legally wed. So even if you’ve been in a relationship for many years, if you die without a Will and you’re not married, your partner isn’t automatically entitled to anything from your Estate.
Making a Will is often seen as a morbid subject that doesn’t need addressing until old age catches up with us.
But nobody knows what’s round the corner. In the UK anyone over the age of 18 can make a Will, and we advise that it’s always better to be prepared. If circumstances change in the future, you can always amend your Will.
There are common milestones in life that should prompt you to make a Will.
Have you bought a property, got married, had children or gone through a divorce? All of these things should lead you to make or update your Will.
You may well have told your family and friends what your wishes are, but in the eyes of the law, this won’t count for anything if you don’t have a legally valid Will.
If you die without one in place, the Rules of Intestacy decide who gets what, regardless of any wishes you have expressed in your lifetime.
There is an ‘order of priority’ which determines which relatives are entitled to an inheritance, and how much they should receive.
This could mean that certain people receive an inheritance when you didn’t want them to, and certain people are excluded entirely.
So it’s vitally important that you record your decisions in a Will.
Our lives are forever changing, and there may be times when the contents of your Will no longer reflect your situation.
If so, you’ll need to amend your Will. But you cannot just cross out the bits that you no longer want to apply and write over it.
If you alter the document in any way, perhaps by writing on it, using corrective fluid or crossing things out, the amendments are not legally valid. This means that when you die, it will effectively be the same as dying with your original Will in place.
Instead, you need to either draw up a separate document called a codicil that refers to your original Will and details the specific amendments you are making, or you can make a new Will altogether. Bear in mind that if you choose a codicil then both the original Will and the subsequent codicils become public documents if Probate is needed after your death.
Therefore if you do not wish for anyone to know what you had originally intended before making the changes, then it’s best to write a new Will altogether to retain privacy.
James Antoniou, head of Wills at Co-op Legal Services.
* According to research by Prudential and Unbiased.co.uk