Everything Wills – What you need to know
Jayne Kelly is a recently qualified Mortgage and Protection Adviser working for CS Mortgages and has been a will writer for many years. She is taking time out of her busy schedule to chat to us about everything Wills.
What is a Will?
Quite simply a will is a legally binding document which states how your estate should be distributed upon your death. Most people when they hear the term estate often conjure up images of something grand, but that’s not so. It’s simply everything that you own, which doesn’t necessarily have to have any financial value, but often has huge sentimental value to the right person.
Who needs a Will?
Well, in short, pretty much everyone, if you have a family, if you’re a parent, homeowner, pet owner, or if you have any personal belongings.
The other major reason would be if you have remarried and have children from a previous relationship. If a person remarries and has additional children, and passes away without making a will, this is called dying intestate, all their estate would go to the new wife or husband. When they in turn pass away, the whole estate would go to children from the second marriage and none to the first. So the children from the first relationship may lose their inheritance to a step parent’s children – this is called sideways disinheritance.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot and you may have seen press coverage of families fighting it out in court. In fact, just recently The Financial Times reported an all time high of these cases in 2019, with a 47% increase from 2018.
It is a costly process and very upsetting for the family when they are grieving their loved ones that can easily be avoided by having a will in place.
Why is it important I have a Will?
If you don’t make a will, the state would decide who inherits your estate when anything happens to you. In many cases this may be okay and the money might go to where it would have done anyway, but if you imagine that you have a sibling whom you have fallen out with, or a situation where a father had abandoned the child and never had any sort of relationship with them, how would you feel if they inherited your estate? If you don’t have any living relatives then, in the absence of a Will, your estate can go to the Government. The question is, would you want to leave it to chance or would you want the peace of mind that your estate will go to whom you choose, in a timely fashion?
There can be a lot of conflict, especially with siblings fighting about parent’s possessions, and if there is no amicable arrangement, the court can order the items to be sold, which is a situation that everybody would want to avoid.
To clarify why it’s important to make a will, it is just to make sure that, whatever your estate looks like, it goes to the person you want it to go to when you pass away. Making a will can also help to mitigate against inheritance tax if you put the right Trusts in place, which is something to think about if you have a high value estate, because if you’ve not done the right thing, it can be very expensive.
What should I include in my Will?
A Will is a very personal document. It can be very basic and just state that you wish to leave your entire estate to X, Y, Z, or it can go into a lot of detail, mentioning lots of different items and including a lot of beneficiaries. As a parent, the most important part is being able to nominate a guardian for children, so should the worst happen without delay, they would be cared for by the people I nominated in my Will to bring them up.
If a Will is not made and no suitable guardians are easily available, it’s possible that your children could be put into temporary care, and as a parent, it’s heartbreaking to think of your children being left in that position, so that was the main factor in me personally deciding to get my own Will in place. You can even add a letter of wishes to your Will which stipulates exactly how you would like the children to be brought up, so you could include things in there like a preferred religion, or that you would like them to have relationships with certain people, that kind of thing.
You really can go into as much detail as you like in your Will and even disinherit people if you want to, which is a lot more common than you think.
What other instructions can be added to your Will?
One popular option is to make a gift to charity, which is very important to the charities themselves as they rely heavily on this kind of income. You can make arrangements for the future of your pets too as well as making plans for your own funeral and setting out your views about organ donation. You can also include trusts in your Will which is all about making sure the right amount of money goes into the right hands at the right time. An example of a really useful trust would be the Vulnerable Person’s Trust, most commonly used for those with a drink or drug dependency or maybe gambling addictions, as it allows the estate to provide for them in a safe and controlled fashion with income advanced from the trustees gradually over time.
What is an Executor?
Quite simply, an Executor is the person, or persons, who are tasked with executing the Will, so it is a very important role which is often underestimated. Many people don’t realise what’s involved when they agree to take on the role, which can involve being tasked with things like closing bank accounts, rehoming pets, disposing of unwanted possessions and generally ensuring that the deceased’s wishes are carried out.
Acting as an Executor can be a lengthy, upsetting process, which is why it’s often best to have more than one person acting for you. They can act jointly and severally, which basically means independently of each other, so if one person wasn’t available, and were away on holiday for example, both executors wouldn’t need to attend a meeting. It’s not unusual for a person to reject the role because their own situation has changed or they simply don’t feel confident in taking on the responsibility and they are within their rights to do just that. It’s always best to get permission from the person you are nominating as your executor and to make sure they are prepared to carry out the role.
You can name up to four executors. In a typical scenario, the first executor would be the spouse, supported by any children. It’s important to nominate somebody that you trust because they have complete control over the will.
Is it possible to change your Will?
Of course. Life changes and relationships change so I always recommend a review of your Will every few years for that reason. The good thing is you can change your Will as often as you like, although there are a few exceptions. Only the most recent Will is valid and that would supersede any previous ones. As long as it’s signed and witnessed by two individuals, and is the most up to date Wiil, that’s the valid one.
Who should I speak to when I’m looking to arrange a Will?
Traditionally, anybody who wanted to make a Will would always go to a solicitor, which is fine, however, they can be expensive. Nowadays there are many specialist Will writers such as myself who are not legally qualified, but can offer a more affordable service. I’m a member of the Society of Will Writers based in London and they do have a great website for anyone wanting more information.
People ask if they can write their own Will but I always say that you can sell your own house, and you can cut your own hair, but I prefer to use a professional and make sure the Will is fit for purpose. You could potentially save a few hundred pounds, but the consequences go way beyond that if it doesn’t stand. Where people have written their own Wills in the past there have been instances where they’ve been challenged in court and overturned, sadly, so do make sure if you’re going to do that, it is watertight.
Who keeps my Will and what happens after my death?
You have two options. Basically, you can keep the Will yourself or put it into storage.If you decide to keep it yourself I always suggest keeping it in a fireproof bag, these are not expensive and you can get them off Amazon. There is a cost involved in the storage and also in the retrieval of the documents by the executors. Remember, there is only one valid copy of a Will and photocopies will not count. The document must be the signed one so it is important it is kept in a safe place.
After death, the executor is responsible for obtaining what’s known as a grant of probate, which will allow them to manage the estate. Organisations, like a bank would need to see a copy of this document and if there’s a Will in place, it speeds the process up dramatically.
Do people really search Amazon for Fireproof Bags to keep their Will safe?
Yes! People use them for Wills and often put them with the deeds of their house, others put them in a tin or in their own safe. It’s really important to keep your will safe
What do most people do?
I think a lot of people do keep their Wills themselves because a lot of people are more aware of the need for a Will at a younger age and the cost of storage over a long period of time can add up. People generally feel quite comfortable that they can keep their Will safe themselves but it’s nice to have other options to consider.
How much does a Will cost?
Well, if you write it yourself, very little, as you can buy a Will writing kit from somewhere like WH Smith for a few pounds, but as I said before, I wouldn’t recommend that as there is a lot of risk involved.
If you have your Will written professionally then most writers will charge somewhere between £100 – £300 for either a Single Will or Mirror Will by which I mean a Will for each partner.
You mention a Single Will and a Mirror Will, are there different types or Will?
Yes, a Single Will would be suitable for a single person on their own taking into account their own circumstances but most married couples have what we call a Mirror Will whereby they will leave their whole estate to the surviving spouse and then upon their death, the estate would be distributed how they want.
Can one person in a married couple have certain stipulations in a Mirror Will?
Yes they can as you could personalise one of the Wills, for example, If someone wanted to leave a certain item to a particular person. An example would be if I wanted to leave my jewellery to my daughter. The will could be written to say that In the first instance it would pass to my husband on condition that when he passed away, she would inherit the items. That’s one example, but yes, it is possible to do.
How easy is it to arrange my Will?
A lot of people put off making a Will because they think there will be a lot of questions to answer but it’s a lot easier than people think. As long as you know who your executors are going to be and, if you have children, who the nominated Guardians are, then the whole process can be done over the telephone, which is important at the moment and the whole matter can be taken care of inside a week,
Is there anything else we need to know about Wills?
Yes! One thing that does put people off making a will is that they think they will have to go into a lot of detail about what they own, how much their house is worth, things like that, but that detail isn’t relevant because a lot of things could happen before they pass away which hopefully will be in many year’s time.
It’s just important to get the job done and there’s no excuse for not doing it, given how easy it really is! The cost is minimal and the Will can be changed at any time as people’s lives and circumstances change, so as long as you review your Will over time then that’s all you need to do.
Do you find people review their Wills proactively or do you have to remind people to review
What happens is people have the peace of mind of knowing that they have written a will and it’s put in a safe place and forgotten about. Part of the service I provide is to make sure that people revisit their Will and to make sure that no changes have occurred, such as any additions to the family, because it’s important that a child is not left out of a will.