Sadly last month, I attended the funeral of my aunt. She had been ill for some time and therefore was able to ensure her will was in order, and think about how she wanted her 'estate' to be distributed, and to who.
It was a stark reminder to my wife and I that we haven't got a will, so I have spent some time recently investigating the options. Below are some of my findings that you might find helpful.
Don't be one of the two-thirds of the British adult population that don't have a will.
Should you prepare your own will or get a professional to do it?
In theory, you could scribble your will on a piece of scrap paper and get a couple of witnesses to sign it. But that doesn’t mean you should attempt a makeshift will just because of the potential simplicity.
The flipside is also true. It is very important to have a will, in which ever form. It will avoid complications for potential beneficiaries and ensure your exact wishes are carried out.
But what happens if you don’t have a will and what are your options for doing it yourself or involving a solicitor?
What happens if you don’t have a will?
In the UK, if you die without a will, your estate will be divided according to common law. This means that your assets might be distributed to someone you didn’t intend for it to go to, and someone you wanted to inherent something to, doesn’t get anything.
Of course, every situation is unique. How the estate will be divided when dying without a will depends on various factors, including the size of the estate, whether there’s a surviving spouse/civil partner or any children.
The law doesn’t leave any room for negotiation and doesn’t take into consideration what your relationship was like with the surviving beneficiaries.
It also doesn’t recognise unmarried partnerships that have not been registered and there’s a risk that your entire estate might go to the Crown.
What are your options for preparing a will yourself?
There are certain legal requirements for writing a will which becomes your responsibility when you do your will yourself, so you should really only consider a DIY will if your estate doesn’t include any complex assets (like an overseas property for example) and if your wishes are very simple. Correct spelling of beneficiary names is key and inheritance tax consequences should also be considered.
As mentioned earlier, you can write your will on a piece of paper and get the proper signatures for it to be valid. However, wills follow a certain structure and use specific wording in order to avoid confusion.
It would therefore be a good idea to purchase an online template or will pack that will guide you in the right direction.
Other DIY options allow you to just fill out an online form with your details. A completed will is then emailed to you within a couple of days. Template options are relatively inexpensive because there are no solicitors involved, however, it does mean you carry all of the responsibility in case something goes wrong. Online templates generally range between £10 and a £100, with some services offering lifelong updates.
Getting a solicitor to write your will
Involving a lawyer or a solicitor when writing your will is probably the best option. This is especially true if your estate is more complex or if your situation is very unique.
Yes, it might be more expensive but a professional will ensure your will is executed exactly to your wishes. They can also ensure your estate is optimised for inheritance tax and the onus is on them should anything go wrong.
Although there are professional, free will writing charities (Free Wills Month) for qualifying couples or individuals, in most instances you will have to pay for a solicitor or lawyer to write your will.
If your affairs are relatively simple, you could opt for a low-cost, online solution. Similar to the DIY options above, these low-cost online options will provide you with a template to fill out.
The difference here is that it will be checked by a solicitor, regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, should anything go wrong. The price would generally range between £100 to £300.
Finally, there’s the more traditional will writing service of contacting a local lawyer and having an in depth discussion about your wishes. This is the best option if your estate is more complicated and you are concerned about the inheritance tax consequences.
The cost of getting a local lawyer will vary greatly depending on your location. In the UK, The Law Society’s website will provide you with a list of solicitors near you.
Whatever route you decide on, everyone should have a will to ensure there are no complications for your loved ones to deal with in, which is bound to be, an already difficult time.
Max Keeling The Investing Coach