Writing a will is not something we like to think about, but it’s important that we do.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document that sets out your wishes concerning who inherits your estate when you die.
It also sets out what happens to any children you’re responsible for.
A will can include details of relatives you would like to have specific items, such as family heirlooms, as well as any charities you’d like to benefit.
Your wishes with regards to funeral arrangements should also be covered.
Importantly, your will sets out who’s responsible for carrying out the instructions contained in the will in the event of your death.
Why do I need one?
Setting up a will is the best possible way of ensuring your assets and possessions would be passed on to the people you want to have them.
A will can also help you reduce your family's potential inheritance tax burden, and set out your wishes with regards to caring for your children.
Just as importantly, a will can make a very difficult time for your family a little easier by reducing the amount of red tape they have to face.
It ensures that the whole inheritance process runs as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Setting up a will is painless and straightforward. Read our guide on how to write a will here. Once set up, you should review it if your financial or family circumstances change.
A change of circumstances would include if you got married or divorced, or if you wanted to change the beneficiaries.
What happens when someone dies without a will?
When a person dies without having previously drawn up a will, they’re said to have died intestate.
In this situation, their assets will be distributed according to the intestacy rules laid down in the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014. This may mean the people you want to inherit your assets may not get them.
For example, for those who are married with children in England and Wales, the law states that only the first £250,000 of your estate goes to your spouse. The remainder of the estate goes to your children.
For those without children, the first £450,000 goes to the spouse, and the rest is shared between surviving parents or siblings and the spouse.
If you have a partner but aren’t married and not in a civil partnership, the situation could be even more complicated.
The estate would normally go to close relatives in such circumstances, and your partner may have to make a legal claim against your estate to get their fair share.
If there’s no-one to inherit your assets, then they go to the crown.
When should you write a will?
It makes sense to draw up a will if you’re married or in a civil partnership; when you have children; or if you’ve bought property with a partner, for example.
If you draw up a will before getting married or entering into a civil partnership in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, it’ll become valid unless it states that it was intended to apply after tying the knot.
If you were to get divorced, the instructions in the will are treated as if your ex-spouse had died.
This means your estate will go to the next named beneficiaries, for example your children.
It’s a good idea to review your will following significant changes in your life like having children, or if you’re separated or divorced.