Making a Will may not be something most of us would consider a top priority- after all, according to research by Royal London, 59% of UK residents still don’t have one.* However, it is a vitally important document that gives you the ability to do far more than divide up your estate.
Below we discuss the top 10 reasons why you need a Will and how this can help you with your life-planning.
1. Appoint a Guardian for your children under the age of 18
If you’re a parent (with Parental Responsibility) you can use your Will to nominate who you would want to look after your minor children. The surviving parent will usually get sole legal custody if one parent dies (as long as they have parental responsibility). But if both parents pass away, this is one of the most important reasons to have a Will.
A guardian will be responsible for all your children’s daily needs, including where they live, what medical treatment they receive, what school they attend, their diet and the child’s general care and development.
If you do not exercise your right to nominate a guardian in your Will, a court will have to choose one for you. This could mean that your child may require emergency foster care whilst the Court makes that decision, and the end result may be that someone you would not have chosen may be appointed.
2. Protect your children’s inheritance
If you are a parent, you may want your child to inherit as much as possible from your estate. Unfortunately, lots of factors can affect how much your child may inherit. By making a Will not only can you safeguard your children’s inheritance, but you can also add in additional protection.
If you have children from a previous relationship, they are particularly vulnerable to disinheritance, and it is essential to take expert advice to ensure they do not lose out. This can easily occur if you leave your estate to your spouse/partner on your death, with an agreement that they would make provision for your child/children on their death. Unfortunately, there is no legal obligation for the surviving spouse/partner to follow those wishes and they can change their Will at any time.
If the surviving spouse or partner dies without a Will as they are not their biological children the law will not make provision for the child, as only blood relatives can automatically inherit under Intestacy (when somebody dies without a Will, or “intestate”). If you want to ensure your child, step-child or foster child inherits, you need to ensure you have the right Will in place to protect them.
In addition, within a Will you can make plans to provide for their future financially, such as making provision for their education, making sure they receive a set amount each year for clothing or hobbies, or establishing a nest egg to buy a home. You can also set up a trust to provide for your children, for example to delay the age of inheritance beyond 18 years to an age that you feel they may be more responsible to ideal with their inheritance.
You may also have concerns about adult children inheriting, within a Will protection can be incorporated to safeguard their inheritance from loss, such as
3. Reduce losses to your estate with structured Inheritance Tax planning within your Will.
Don’t pay more inheritance tax (IHT) than you need to – if any at all! It is perfectly legal to plan to reduce, if not totally avoid, an IHT liability. Making your Will with an expert is the perfect opportunity to assess your current exposure to IHT and put a plan in place to ensure your estate does not fall liable to the 40% charge to tax.
The amount of inheritance tax that will be charged from your estate depends on the value of your estate and who you leave it to. On first death, anything left to a spouse or civil partner will be automatically exempt from inheritance tax, but on the survivor’s death their estate will be the combined value of their own assets plus those of the deceased.
4. Make provisions for unmarried partners or cohabitees.
If you are not married, legally under the statutory intestacy rules, your partner is not automatically entitled to anything from your estate if you pass away without a Will in place. This applies regardless of how long you have been together, and there is no such thing as a common law spouse as many people believe.
You can protect your partner easily by making a Will. This is particularly important if the family home is only in one partner’s name. As an unmarried partner won’t automatically inherit it if you die without a Will, they may lose their home. You can make a Will and leave them a share of the property, or a right to reside in the property
5. Protect your home from care fees
A 2013 study by NFU mutual estimated over 200,000 homes are sold or charged each year to pay for care fees.** This is a staggering statistic and reflects 200,000 families a year who will not inherit as much as they had hoped for.
However, you can mitigate future loss to care fees by making your Will in the right structure. You can make provision for your beneficiaries (a person or persons who will inherit something in a Will) and at the same time protect your assets. The care fee system is extremely complex; however, it is perfectly legal for a couple to arrange their Wills in a way which protects their share of their home from being used to pay care home fees. This provides a comfort that their share of the property is available for the survivor to live in for as long as necessary, but doesn’t form part of the survivor’s estate, and therefore is not subject to means testing.
6. Ensure suitable provisions are made for your pets with your Will
Making a Will is a way to ensure that you can nominate someone to take care of your pet(s) after you die. The law considers pets to be property, so you can’t legally leave assets to your pet(s) in your Will. However, you can name a beneficiary for your pet(s), leaving them to a trusted friend or family member. You can also ask that person to act as a caregiver for your pet(s). You can also create a Trust within your Will to leave funds to provide for your pet’s care, wellbeing, and potential veterinarian bills.
7. Choose who receives your estate. Without a Will the law decides
Making a Will gives you the choice to decide who you wish to benefit from your estate, giving you the freedom of choice. Without a Will, the law decides for you. By making a Will, you can name people as beneficiaries for specific assets such as sentimental items or family heirlooms. You can also nominate who you wish to inherit your family home and savings.
Without a Will only blood relatives inherit in a strict order depending on your family tree, these are known as the intestacy provisions. If you want to choose who inherits, or you would like to make gifts to various people such as friends, a god child, charities, or someone other than your closest blood relative(s) then you need to make a Will. If you pass away without a Will and no living blood relatives your assets can ‘vest in the Crown’ (when the Crown, or the state, become the beneficiary of an unclaimed estate).
8. Disinherit those you choose
Not all families are perfect and without a Will your nearest relatives may inherit under the Intestacy Rules, however that may not be what you want.
By making a Will you can specifically exclude people who you do not want to inherit, who would otherwise stand to. For example, you might want to prevent an ex-spouse from receiving an inheritance. Or you may be estranged from a child or other family member and want to ensure that they do not benefit from your estate after your death.
9. Leave a gift to your chosen charity in your Will
Without a Will the law dictates which of your closest blood relatives inherit. This is a hard set of rules and does not allow for any flexibility for provision to anyone other than those specified relatives.
If you support a charity and would like them to benefit from your estate by making a gift or donation to a good cause, it is essential that you make a Will. Only by making a Will can you make such gifts to a charity or charities close to your heart allowing your legacy to make a difference to a good cause that you value. By making a Will you can rest assured that your pledge will be used by the charity to help them continue the good work they do.
10. Choose your own Executors and avoid probate delays
Making a Will allows you to nominate who will deal with the administration of your estate.
Being an executor is an important job, responsibilities may include collecting details of all assets and liabilities of the estate, completing a Tax Return, applying to the Probate Court, closing bank accounts, and distributing assets.
As the role of Executor is extremely important, you should ensure that you choose someone who is honest, trustworthy, and organised (which may or may not always be a family member). You also need to consider if the person would still be capable of taking on such a responsibility at the time of bereavement and they are grieving – the role is a burden and can take many months to complete.
If you don’t choose an executor in your will, the court will pick one for you and it may not be the person you’d want.
Having a Will also speeds up the probate process as your Will informs the court how you wished for your estate to be divided. If you don’t have a Will in place and pass away intestate, the law needs to decide how to divide your estate without your input, which can also cause long, unnecessary delays, especially if distant family members need to be traced.
If you would like to make an appointment to discuss your Will or have a free Will review with our partner Accord Legal Services, click here and complete our enquiry form.
*Royal London Press Release, Royal London website, Dec 2018
** NFU Mutual Press Release, Dec 2013