Many people put off making a will because they think it’s complicated, requires a lot of admin, would rather spend their money on something a bit more fun, or simply because it’s something they’d really rather not think about… It can be difficult to think objectively about end of life planning, but making a will needn’t be a time consuming, complex, or morbid affair – and the very best thing you can possibly do for your loved ones’ future is to make the legal process of your passing as straightforward and stress-free as possible. Having an up-to-date, professionally-made will means there are no nasty surprises, no complicated requirements, and no room for contention.
Here’s how to get it done in 5 (and a bit) easy steps:
1. Make a list of assets and liabilities
The first thing to do, even before you get in touch with a solicitor, is to work out the approximate value of your estate. That means making a list of assets, eg: property, businesses, possessions, investments, savings, shares etc, as well as any liabilities such as debts, overdrafts, or outstanding mortgage amounts. It’s important to know both these things so that the true value of your estate can be determined and your solicitor can help you to consider how to structure your will in the most tax-effective way.
2. Decide on beneficiaries
Beneficiaries are the people who are named in your will to receive the assets and possessions you’d like to pass on after you’re gone. Beneficiaries can include family, friends, charities and other organisations of your choice. When leaving assets to children you may also wish to stipulate that any inheritance is to be kept safe until they are of a certain age, or appoint a trusted friend or family member to help them manage any assets of value.
The main reason for a will being disputed is when instructions for beneficiaries aren’t clear enough, or if the contents and decisions within the will come as a surprise to family members. That’s why it’s vital to set out clear instructions about who you’d like to receive what – and, if possible, to communicate your plans to your family when you make the will so that there are no surprises in the future. It can also be helpful to prepare a statement of wishes to accompany the will that explains your reasoning behind your decisions if you think there may be anything particularly contentious.
3. Appoint an executor (or two)
An executor is a friend, family member who you trust to make sure the terms of your will are carried out and deal with your estate after you’re gone. Ideally, you should name more than one executor in case one or other is unavailable or passes away before you do, and many people also appoint their solicitor as an executor to provide professional, experienced support during the process.
Regardless of who you appoint, an executor should be over the age of eighteen, someone you trust and regard as capable of managing your probate affairs. If you name several executors, you may also want to consider whether they will be able to work together if necessary, without any conflicts of interest, since your executors may also be beneficiaries.
4. Find two independent witnesses
To complete your will, you’ll need to find two independent witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will (or the spouse/civil partner of a beneficiary) to witness and sign it. (Your solicitor may also be able to provide independent witnesses on your behalf if necessary.) Witnesses must both see you sign or acknowledge the will in their presence, and then sign the will themselves.
Due to the pandemic, the Government is now allowing virtual witnessing of wills from 31 Jan 2020 to 31 Jan 2022 (or such other time period as the Government decides), but the will must still be physically signed by both witnesses and the person making the will.
5. Keep your will safe and up to date!
Once you’ve got your will signed and sorted, your solicitor will keep it for safekeeping and provide you and your executors with a copy for your own records. It’s also useful to notify your executors (or some other close friend or family member) where you have stored your own copy of the will, and the name and contact details of your solicitor.
It’s also important to note that it’s not usually helpful to put your wishes for funeral arrangements in the will itself, as the funeral is likely to take place before the will is consulted. Instead, add it to the above information on where to find your will and let your executors, family or friends know your funeral choices if that’s something that is important to you.
And that’s it! Almost…
People often make a will and then (quite understandably) want to forget all about it. But it’s important to update the details of your will whenever you go through a major life change, for example: getting married or divorced, having a child or grandchild, moving house, starting or closing a business, or anything else that affects your assets, liabilities, beneficiaries or financial circumstances. Without doing so, there may be assets that do not have specific beneficiaries or instructions, or new beneficiaries you’d like to benefit from your will who are not named on it.
Changes in your marital status can also make a huge difference to your will. For example, if you get divorced but do not updated your will, your ex may remain named as the main beneficiary. Conversely, if you re-marry, any will made prior to the marriage will be nullified.
It’s usually quick and easy to make minor adjustments to your will – just get in touch with your solicitor to keep things up-to-date, or for advice on any major changes in circumstance.
Bonus! Consider lasting powers of attorney or a ‘living will’
Making a will is not the only important document for safeguarding your future. Lasting powers of attorney (LPA) can be just as valuable if you should find yourself unable to manage your own affairs later in life due to illness, dementia, or an accident. An LPA – sometimes known as a ‘living will’ – works in a similar way as a will, but relates to your estate and personal care while you’re still alive. Much like choosing executors for your will, you pick one or more people you trust to act as ‘attorneys’ to manage one or both forms of LPA: property and finances, and health and welfare. This allows you to make future decisions or set out your wishes for your finances, living situation, savings, care and medical arrangements, and how you might pay for any assisted living or care you may need in the future. It also ensures that your appointed attorneys have access to the necessary banking and utility accounts they need to act on your behalf.
Your solicitor can help you sort out an LPA at the same time as setting up a will, ensuring that you are protected whatever the future holds and giving you total peace of mind.
To speak to an experienced solicitor about any aspect of will making and Lasting Powers of Attorney, get in touch at www.franceslindsay.co.uk.