Do you really need a will?
(If you want to save money by writing your own Will and Testament using a “Do-it-yourself” pack, you can get a kit for just £3.99 – see below)
If you don’t have a will and you die intestate (will-less, without a will) then first of all your affairs might be stuck in a state of limbo for a great many years.
On top of this, without a will your finances and assets (property, shares, antiques, cars, goods, etc.) will be divided among your relatives by the legal system, the law, and so even if there are family members who you don’t like or had fallen out with, etc., then they will have a claim and will probably be awarded money and assets even if you didn’t want them to be.
Even with this knowledge a lot of people still don’t make a will, either they think the time will never come (and hey, none of us are immortal), and maybe they don’t want to go through what they perceive to be the “hassle” of making a will, or to pay the costs (which all things considered are minimal).
Remember also that if you have no will then the bank may freeze your assets meaning that bills can’t be paid and the people you care about who are involved may have to spend an awful lot of time and money to resolve the situation.
All of this can be avoided by taking a few simple steps and paying a relatively small amount of money to sort out a will, so no matter how young or old you might be, if you have assets like a house, or business, or car, or other valuables, and/or money or savings or shares, or even insurance policies that will pay out on your death, then you really need to make a will as soon as possible to protect the people you love who will be left behind.
It’s not easy or pleasant to talk about and plan for your death, but imagine how much worse it will be for those left behind if you haven’t taken the appropriate steps, but it doesn’t need to cost a fortune, if you prefer to write your own will you can buy a will and testament pack from Amazon for as little as £3.99.
It really can take years and years and be a huge financial and more importantly a huge emotional burden on your relatives.
I don’t want to sound like I’m flogging dead horse, but I really can’t reiterate just how important it is to make a will.
If you are married think about your partner and children, grandchildren and other relatives who you want to look after and leave something behind for when you have gone.
If you are “living in sin” (as they used to call it a long time ago), or in other words aren’t married but are living together – think about the life and home that you have built together, and what you want for your partner.
We’ve all heard the stories of jealous children from previous relationships causing havoc with the person one of their parents has fallen in love with.
Even if there are no children involved, the law will often not recognise a legal status in an unmarried couple, so not having a will is just asking for trouble.
If you are divorced or separated then you may want to specify what happens to your money and assets, what goes to whom, etc.
Your Funeral Wishes
It’s really important to point out that a will is usually read after the funeral, so any specific wishes you have for your funeral might not be known until after the event.
Because of this you should consider leaving a separate document called a record of wishes, or perhaps even consider a prepaid funeral plan which will not only detail your wishes, but also cover the costs of your funeral.
This saves your family the emotional and financial worries of making sure that you have the send-off that you wanted, and having to foot the bill for it – which they may not be able to afford.
Remember that cheap funerals are on the rise, the lowest cost of all being where the funeral directors take your body to a crematorium, and you are cremated without mourners or a service.
Families do not do this out of malice, in these difficult times they do it out of necessity.
Recording changes in your circumstances
If your circumstances do change – you get divorced, or married or re-married, or have children, then you will need to update your will accordingly.
It might seem a bind to do this, but not doing it takes you right back to square one, the situation your family would be in if you had no will at all.
So what exactly does a will do, what function does it perform?
A will serves 4 main purposes:
Naming your executors
These are the people that you specify to look after your financial affairs after you have passed away.
Ideally you want to name people who are trusted friends or colleagues, or relatives who cope well under stress in difficult times.
An alternative option is to name a solicitors or even a bank to act as executors, but they can charge extremely high fees that will eat into the money, etc. that you leave behind.
You need to check with any kind of will service that you use that the people creating the will for you don’t add themselves to the list of executors – so that they can charge a lot of money or “leech” off your estate.
Cheap and low cost will making services may well try and sneak this kind of trick in through the back door, so be careful!
Your executors will deal with all of the financial requirements that are left when you are gone, like paying off your mortgage, paying other fees, etc., so choose them well.
Distributing your estate as you wished.
This is what most people think of when they think of writing a will – deciding who gets what and putting it into a legal document to make sure that your wishes are fulfilled.
Maybe you want your money to be distributed among some people, your property/properties to be shared among others, your jewellery and antiques to go to another person, and maybe you even have pets to think about and distribute.
It is worth noting that just because you leave something to someone in your will, they do not have to accept it.
If you left your pet rabbits for example with someone who hates animals, or doesn’t want the responsibility then they can say “no”.
It’s the same with property with debts on it, or even art or anything else.
If this happens then those items will be absorbed into the residue of your estate and will be dealt with in the residuary clause of your will.
Providing for Children
When you pass away the responsibility for your children goes to anyone else with parental responsibility, in your will it is advisable to name a guardian or guardians for your children, and of course to make sure that you also make funds available to support them.
If you do not have a will or outline this in your will then the law will decide what happens to your children – bearing in mind some of the crazy decisions that are reported where the courts and children are involved – is this something you want to take a risk with when it can be easily avoided?
To offset inheritance tax liabilities
If you do not have a will then the courts will decide how your estate is divided, and who gets what and this also means that the division of your property and money is not going to be tax efficient.
In UK law (as I write this) you have to pay 40% in tax of any assets worth over £325,000 that you leave after you have died.
Thinking about the average cost of a house in the UK today, and imagining what it might be in 10 or20 years from now shows you just how much your estate might have to pay to the taxman – and it could be a small fortune, running into the 10’s of thousands of pounds.
However, with a will it is possible to reduce this amount substantially, just by planning ahead carefully in your will.
How to Write or Prepare a Will
You have to remember that a will is a legally binding document, and as you can imagine if it contains mistakes or isn’t clear, then it can cause all manner of time consuming, expensive, and worrying problems.
For this reason it may be the best option to visit a solicitor and have them prepare your will properly and professionally, even if it does cost £100+ pounds to do so – the cost to your estate or your loved ones could be significantly more if it isn’t right.
However, we live in a different age today, the information age, where there are all kinds of alternatives available at the click of a button, and so while we all imagine a will being written in the stuffy old office of a well-worn solicitor, it doesn’t have to be this way, and there are cheaper alternative options available to you.
As mentioned though – you have to make sure that you get it right above all else.
Filling in a template may not be enough, it may not cover everything you need to, and may not actually legally speaking be binding.
Alternative ways of getting a will prepared
It is possible to get a will prepared for free, or for a very low cost if it is included in your membership or subscription to a variety of different organisations.
If you are a member of a trade union then you may be entitled to a free or low cost will.
Some of the unions offering this are:
Unison (who have a lot of members in the Police and legal professions), the NASUWT teachers’ union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and the Fire Brigades Union.
Also some employers might contribute to your will as part of your employment package.
Some car and home insurance policies also include a will preparation service.
It is important to recognise that some of these are simply templated where you fill in the details as above, and so they may not be suitable for you.
Charity provided wills
Some charities will offer you a will writing service that is provided by a bona fide solicitor, and some of them offer this service for free.
Of course what they are doing is throwing a hook into the sea to discover what they can catch.
Some charities will find people who want to leave their entire estate to the charity in question, it is unlikely that they envisage a situation where people are queuing up for free wills without leaving money to the charity itself.
It’s up to you if you want to go down this route but actually leave nothing to the charity, they will have to pay for your will, which could be £100+, but they will of course have factored this scenario into their calculations.
It’s whether you have the bare faced cheek to let them eat your costs just for a free will, or if you want to reward them for their time and effort.
If you do then it isn’t a free will, so you may as well pay a solicitor and decide for yourself who gets what.
Cheap Wills from Practicing Solicitors
There are many services that claim to be offering low cost wills from practicing specialised solicitors, but there are in our minds 2 things to bear in minds:
- Good solicitors are never cheap; they really do know how to charge.
- The cost difference between a “full” solicitor will writing service and a “cheap” solicitor will writing service is negligible when you consider what is at stake.
For these 2 simple reasons we would not recommend a cheap solicitor based options for preparing and writing your will.
Do It Yourself template type wills
If you don’t have complicated affairs, lots of shares, properties, bank accounts, art, antiques, or other complex financial instruments or large values to deal with, then you could opt for a template based will that you can either download and fill in, or buy in a shop and fill in the blanks.
Of course if you make a mess of it then there is no comeback, like if a solicitor messed up, you will only have yourself to blame, but in very simple and straightforward estates there perhaps isn’t much to get wrong in the first place.
Some of these downloadable or “off the shelf” packs cost just £3.99 (at Amazon, here)., which is of course a substantial saving from going to a solicitor, and is possibly all you need if you’re not John D Rockefeller.
For a lot of people, in fact probably most people, a DIY will is going to suffice, but bear these points in mind.
- If you get something wrong then your will might not be valid or may cause problems – not that you’ll care much about it because you’ll be dead, but your relatives and loved ones might not be thrilled about this outcome
- If you’re under the age of 18 and aren’t mentally competent then your will may be invalid too
- You also need to note in any will that it replaces all previous versions and is the only valid will
- If you spell the name of a person, organisation, business, charity, or anyone or anything else then it’s going to cause problems
- If you are not specific about who gets what, about assets, or finances then this will cause problems too
For these reasons you are probably better off either using a solicitor or a specialist in preparing wills – anything else really isn’t worth the hassle or potential problems that could be left behind.
Still not convinced?
Well, it’s really up to you if you want to make a will or not, but the fallout from not having one can be substantial.
Consider that if you want YOUR wishes to be observed then you MUST have a will, plus it gives you family reassurance that everything is taken care of.
It makes sure that your possessions and money go to who YOU want, and that people who you don’t want to benefit from your lifetime of hard work don’t get a free ride because of a loophole.
This also means that your relatives won’t need to argue and fight among themselves because person A doesn’t think you wanted person B to get some item, or money, or property.
If YOU lay out what YOU want then there can be no argument or falling out afterwards.
Also consider how much you care about your loved ones.
Do you want them to have to fight and squabble to get what is rightfully theirs, and what YOU wanted them to have?
Imagine the worst case scenario – where someone you care about deeply doesn’t get what you desperately wanted them to have – because someone else you don’t care about has kicked up a stink until everyone has given in to their demands.
How would you feel about that (if you were still alive)?
Furious? Or more angry than that?
Also think about the tax implications
Tax issues are made boring by the powers that be for a reason – so that no one gives them a seconds notice, and then they can creep up on you and steal as much from you as possible.
Having a will prepared by a solicitor can efficiently handle all of your taxation liabilities, and make sure that the fruits of your lifetime of labour go to the people you care about and love, rather than some faceless, self-important clipboard bearing phantom.
Who really wants to give 40% of everything they owned, built up over a lifetime of struggle and hard work to some self-officious, self-entitled bureaucrat when they could instead leave it to their children or grandchildren instead?
As I said it’s up to you if you want to prepare and leave a will or not, but the reality sadly is that if you don’t spend a couple of hundred pounds doing it now, then it could cost your family and loved ones 10’s of thousands of pounds later.
Not having a will is a gamble, but it’s a gamble that could cost you (or rather your family and children) thousands of pounds because you haven’t bought a ticket.