Will you or won’t you?

20 May 2015

Being in the legal profession, it stands to reason that I would advise everybody to make a Will.

I have come across various justifications for not doing so and outline below my response to these common stumbling blocks.

‘I haven’t got much to leave behind’: We all have personal possessions, whether a bank account or car. Even if you haven’t got a lot, without a Will in place to appoint executors, the question is who will deal with what you have got? For example your children – especially if they are young – are likely to be your most important consideration. Your Will can appoint guardians to look after them in the event of your death.

‘Wills are only for older people – I’m far too young to worry about it’: One thing is certain in life and that is that we will all die. Unfortunately we cannot choose the time of our passing and sadly, we may have little or no warning.

‘My husband/wife/children will automatically inherit everything’: This is a very common misconception, which is not necessarily the case. Under the intestacy rules, your spouse may not receive everything if you have children. If you survive your husband or wife, your children will benefit under the intestacy rules on your death but your step-children will not. If you have no children, do you know who will benefit?

‘I have no-one to leave it to’: For those people who don’t have close family, their estate may end up being distributed between distant family members, some of whom they may have never met, or even to the Crown. Most people would favour benefiting friends and neighbours who have been part of their lives, and also charities whose causes they identify with.

‘It’s too complicated’: This is not an uncommon situation. For example, some people struggle to decide how to benefit their children and other relatives fairly. Others are concerned about the implications of their death on a family business or other business interests. This is where expert advice from a professional solicitor comes to the fore.

‘I don’t have time’: Making a Will may not be top on your list of priorities but I would argue that it is as important as arranging your home insurance or getting your car serviced. These days, the process of making a Will is straightforward and most of the work can be done over the phone or via email, with only a short face-to-face meeting necessary.

‘It’s too expensive’: Compared to what? A weekend away; a new washing machine? A Will is a one-off cost, unless your circumstances or wishes change, and the cost isn’t high when you consider what you are seeking to protect.

A word of warning: Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, so beware of adverts for ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ Wills. We regularly have to deal with the fall out of poorly drafted or “do-it-yourself” Wills. It is very easy to be ambiguous, or to use a word which has a legal meaning which you didn’t intend. There is no substitute for seeing your local specialist solicitor.

And finally… if that hasn’t convinced you, think of the good you can do with your Will. Charities will never benefit under the intestacy rules and the charities you support during your lifetime will lose your £5 per month direct debit when you die. If you don’t make a Will, your family may take a charity collection at your funeral, or they may make a donation, but this is unlikely to be as generous as you would.

In addition, if your estate is likely to be subject to Inheritance Tax when you die, anything you leave to charity will be exempt from Inheritance Tax on top of your tax-free nil-rate band. If you leave 10% of your estate to charity, the rate of Inheritance Tax on the rest of your estate is reduced from 40% to 36%.

Find your local solicitor or Will-writer via Remember A Charity’s postcode search.

Karen Bacon, Head of Wills, Probate & Tax at Steeles Law