Failing to make a will means your belongings will be distributed according to the laws of the country you live in – which may not be in the manner you would wish. It’s a good idea to make a will therefore, to ensure that all your money, property and possessions are distributed to the people you want them to go to, in the proportions of your choosing. There can also be tax advantages for your dependants in leaving a will and it allows you to choose who will take care of any children you may have who are under the age of 18.
You can write a will yourself – there are will-writing packs and websites available to help you do this - but there are various legal formalities which need to be observed to ensure your will is valid and if your affairs are complicated you might be better off getting expert advice. It is advisable to obtain specialist help if:
You can get a will drawn up by a solicitor, a will-writer or a bank. The main benefit of using a solicitor is that he/she will be regulated by your country’s Law Society so if something goes awry, you or your dependants can seek a remedy through the society’s complaints service and compensation fund.
Whoever you choose, ensure they are properly qualified and have the right experience to deal properly with your needs. Also find out who they are regulated by, make sure they have indemnity insurance and find out what systems they have in place to deal with any complaints or problems that you or your beneficiaries might have.
An executor is the person responsible with passing on your estate. If your affairs are fairly uncomplicated, you can save a lot of money by appointing a close friend of family member to be the executor of your will, rather than a solicitor or bank. They can always obtain expert advice if they need it.
Writing your own will is certainly cheaper; you can buy a will-writing pack for around £10, while a will drawn up by an expert can cost you anything from about £80 for a simple will to up to around £600 if your circumstances are complicated and you need to set up a number of trusts, for example.
To be valid, a will must be in writing, written of your own free will, and not drawn up under duress. It then needs to be signed and dated by you in front of witnesses, and signed by them at the same time. A witness or the spouse of a witness must not be a beneficiary of the will. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland two witnesses are needed and these witnesses should be in the same room when the will is signed. In Scotland one witness is usually enough, but even a will that is not witnessed may sometimes still be valid.
You need to tot up all your assets to figure out your total worth. If you are a property owner, its value is the market price on that day, minus the share owned by anyone else and any mortgage owed. List any life insurance policies, cash in bank accounts and investments. Don’t forget things like house contents, personal effects, cars and so on. Once you’ve added up the value of everything, deduct the sums needed to pay off any loans and those needed to cover funeral expenses to come up with a final ‘worth’ figure.
Once your total assets are totalled up, a sum is deducted to cover debts, tax and fees. You can then choose to leave sums of cash and/ or bequeath specific gifts – whether this is property or treasured possessions – to named individuals. What is left after this is known as the residue which can be left to one person, or divided between a number of people.
You should specify who you want to be guardian to children you have under the age of 18 should you and the other parent die and state where the money will come from to care for them. They are usually provided for via a trust which means that anything you leave to your children, will be held in trust for them until they are 18 (or until they marry if earlier).
You can change your will using a codicil or by getting rid of the old will and writing a new one.
A codicil is a written record of the change you want to make which needs to be written, dated and witnessed then kept with the original will.
If you want to make a new will, it’s best to destroy the original and start the new one with a clause that states that it revokes all previous wills and codicils.
You can keep it in a safe place in your home (make sure someone you trust knows where it hidden) or you can pay a solicitor or a bank to store it for you.
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