A will is a document which states who you want your money and other possessions, including your property if you own one to go to in the event of your death.
It also names someone (or more than one person if you would like) to organise this for you, and to carry out your instructions. This person, or people are known as an executor.
But why do you need a will? Surely your possessions will just go to your family? Why do I need a document to say that?
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. If you die without making a will, it’s called dying intestate and in this case, it’s the law that decides who gets what, and how much.
So you’ll have no say over who benefits from your house, and which family member will get which possessions. Imagine how stressful that could be for your family, and the potential for arguments and legal challenges. Surely the last thing you want.
For example, if you and your partner are unmarried, yet you have children together, then the children will receive everything in your will, and your partner has no legal right to anything from you. Or if you are married, then your spouse may get the majority of your estate, but your children might not gain much. If you are separated, but not divorced, then this too, could mean an uncomfortable situation for the family. So it’s important you get to say who you want to get what.
The family and friends you leave behind may be facing a huge inheritance tax bill if you die without a will. You might not think that applies to you, but if you own a house, then chances are that with the combination of your house and all your possessions, you will be pushed over the amount where you start to pay inheritance tax. So with a bit of careful planning and advice from a solicitor, your family could be thousands of pounds better off, just from making a will and passing on your estate in a way that doesn’t leave a huge bill.
A will also allows you to leave possessions or money to people outside your family, who wouldn’t benefit normally. So, for example, if you wanted to leave money to charity, there is no way of anyone knowing this without you making a will. It also allows you to give specific possessions, which may be of sentimental value, to certain people, such as photographs or books, etc.
Finally, a will contains details of your final wishes, where and how you would like to be laid to rest, and details of any plans you may have in place. Your executor will carry out these wishes for you.
To ensure your will is a valid document, then it must contain the following:
- How you want your estate to be divided when you die
- It has to be signed and dated in the presence of two adult, independent witnesses, who then have to sign the will themselves
- It must be made when you are in control of the contents and you weren’t put under pressure to make decisions
The best thing to ensure that you have followed all instructions properly is to instruct a solicitor, who can also advise you on what’s best for your personal circumstances and how to make the most of your estate.