The Role of a will


A will reflects your decisions apropos what will happen to your assets – money, property and possessions – when you die. (There is no ‘if’.) Yet two thirds of us don’t have one.

There are some compelling reasons for making a will, not least because to ‘die intestate’ (which means to die without leaving a will) can not only leave chaos behind you but foolishly create a situation in which those you love – and maybe some you do not love – are in conflict.

But importantly you can avoid your beneficiaries paying some, most or all the inheritance that they would otherwise pay if you leave a will. And that means you preserve more of the inheritance rather than allow HMRC to get their hands on it.

Although it’s possible to write a will yourself, the British government advises people in no uncertain terms to seek help if their will wouldn’t be straightforward. And, actually, there are all sorts of reasons – and events that might occur between a will being written and it being acted on – why what seemed to be a simple will turns out to be inadequate when it comes to coping with the changed circumstances.

When the British Government Advises Citizens to Go to Solicitors for Advice on Wills

The circumstances in which the government advises us to go to solicitors for help with wills can be summed up as when complexities arise because we:

  • Share property with anyone who is not legally a spouse (NB ‘common-law’ wives and husbands are not legally recognised)
  • Wish to leave assets to dependents who will rely on others for future care
  • Will leave behind several family members, and this is especially likely if we’ve remarried, who might fight over assets
  • Possess a permanent home overseas
  • Have property abroad
  • Are in business

But there are other considerations. Like, for example, whether you have step-children, foster-children or adopted children. Unless they are mentioned in a will they are likely to inherit nothing by default.

It’s Not Enough to Just Write a Will

It’s never enough to simply write a will. Because you’ll then need to formally sign it in front of appropriate witnesseses. Otherwise it won’t be legally valid. And that means it could well be contested. In some circumstances, after your death, an old will which no longer represents your wishes might then be relied upon – with repercussions that would have you rolling in your grave.

Can You Change a Will?

Relationships change. Assets change. And potential beneficiaries might come and go between when a will is written and when it is to be referred to in the process of dispersing assets. Sadly sometimes our children predecease us (they die first). Happily sometimes the circle of family and friends grows (through marriages, births and more). So there might be many reasons for you to wish to update or replace your existing will.

Anyone intending to update their will must make an official alteration called a ‘codicil’. Or they can simply make a new will.

What if There’s No Will?

If you die without a will, that’s die intestate, the law decides on who gets what. The British Government’s advice is online at www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will. It takes you on a step-through guide to what happens when people die intestate. There are separate trails for residents of England and Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The system in England and Wales is defined by the Administration of Estates Act (1925). And the pecking-order, when somebody dies without leaving a will, is something like this:

  • Any married or civil law partners get the first £250,000 (importantly this is less than the average UK house-price, meaning a home might need to go under the hammer) including possessions
  • After that anything else is halved between the aforementioned partner and any kids as soon as they’re over 18
  • If there’s no married or civil law partner and no kids then parents are next in line
  • Siblings are next
  • Grandparents are next
  • Uncles and aunts are next
  • Any other living blood-relatives could follow
  • Her Majesty’s Government – the Crown – is the final resort.

So You Have a Valid Will. What Do You Do with It?

Your solicitor will ensure that your will is valid. But what then?

  • Firstly ensure that the executor (who has agreed to ensure your will is implemented) knows about the will and where it is going to be kept
  • Secondly store it in a truly safe place. At home, with your solicitor or a bank, with a will storage company, or with the Probate Service (‘probate’ is the proving or validation of wills)
  • Thirdly review your will periodically. Just to remind yourself of it and to ensure that it still represents what you expect to be your final wishes.

Where Can You Find Out More About Wills?

You can find out more on writing wills at Goodwills though the British government’s website will tell you a lot at www.gov.uk/make-will/writing-your-will


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