More than 50 per cent of people in Britain do not have a will1.
Dying without a will is known as dying ‘intestate’. This can create a number of problems for family and loved ones left behind. Dying intestate also means that any wishes you may have intended will not be carried out.
A will is a legal document which allows you to determine who you want to benefit from your property and possessions when you are gone.
You can draw up a will by yourself, but as it is an important legal document it is advisable to get it drawn up by a legal expert as any mistakes can result in problems after your death.
Customers of Engage Mutual can access The Co-operative Legal Services professional will writing service. For free advice and support on writing a will or to find out more about the will writing service, call 0800 093 1936 (please note, calls may be recorded).
why you need a will
If you own anything of value, whatever your age, it makes sense to make a will to ensure that whatever you leave goes to the right people.
If you die intestate and have no living relatives, The Crown will receive all the assets from your estate.
It’s not always safe to assume that if you die, your spouse will inherit your entire estate because this may not be the case.
By making a will you can specify who you would like to act as guardians of your children under 18, in the event of your death. You can use the will to make provision for funds to assist with this.
If you are unmarried, a will can ensure that any partner is recognised financially and/or by other means.
Whether it’s looking after pets, or recognising your preferred charity with a donation, a will can clarify your wishes; help avoid any family fall outs; and simplify the distribution of your estate.
You can also use a will to reduce the impact of inheritance tax. This is a tax on the estate you leave behind when you die, currently taxed at 0% for the first £325,000 and 40% above this value (tax year 2010-2011).
dying without a will
Without a will, access to your estate even by a spouse can be difficult, and affairs can take months to sort out.
If you die without a will strict intestacy laws called the Rules of Intestacy come into play.
as a general principle, if you die intestate, the estate is shared by relatives in priority, ranked by their closeness (by birth) to you
See http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/cto/customerguide/page14-1.htm for individual intestacy rules for England & Wales; Scotland; and Northern Ireland.
what does an executor do?
As part of making a will you will need to name executors. The executors are responsible for managing and administering your estate when you die. This involves the distribution of the estate in accordance with the instructions contained within the will.
You might wish to choose a trustworthy relative or friend. Some people choose to use a solicitor or bank as an executor, although this can be expensive.
The estate includes anything of value you own at the time of your death, which might include property, shares, savings, car or pension.
Their role is to collect/value your estate’s assets, pay any debts, taxes and funeral costs, distribute any gifts, and transfer any property to the named beneficiaries.
If you have debts, these become the responsibility of your estate. Debts have to be paid in a set order. Only after debts have been paid can anything be given to the people named in your will.
make it valid
You need to be aged 18 or over (in England and Wales, 16 in Scotland) and of sound mind to make a valid will. In addition it must be:
made voluntarily and not as a result of pressure from anyone else
signed in the presence of two witnesses
signed by the two witnesses in the presence of the person making the will
Scottish wills must be signed on each page as well as the last.
It is important that any witnesses (or their partners) do not stand to benefit from your will. The will would still be valid if a beneficiary was to act as a witness however, they would not be able to inherit from the will.
keep it safe, and up to date
It’s a good idea to update your will every 5 years; or after any major changes in your life, such as having a child, or additional children, getting divorced, separated, or married.
If a professional draws up your will, they will generally hold the original and provide a copy. Make sure that any executors know where to find your will.
Clicking on the following links will take you away from the Engage Mutual website.
1. The Guardian: When it comes to will writing, Britain has no will, 10 (August 2010) http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2010/aug/10/will-writing-regulation
Please be aware: the content of this page is based on current information. It is regularly reviewed to ensure that facts are up to date. This information provides a basic overview only, so you should not rely on it to make decisions.