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Why do I need a will?


Rebecca Mitchell-Smith, a solicitor in our private client team, provides a quick guide to the importance of having an up-to-date will and outlines the process behind preparing one.

A will is a legal document which is prepared during your lifetime and sets out what is to happen after your death. It confirms who will manage your affairs and who will receive your assets after your death.

What does a will cover?

A will covers a range of matters which include:

  • Who will manage your affairs, money and personal possessions (your estate) after your death: this person (or people) are called your executors. They sort the arrangements for your funeral, collect in your assets, settle any liabilities using money from your estate and distribute everything that is left in your estate to the beneficiaries you specifically name in your will.
  • Executors are also responsible for declaring the value of your estate to HMRC, obtaining a Grant of Probate and paying any Inheritance Tax (if any of these are required).
  • Funeral wishes so that your executors have an idea of your personal preferences and can follow this guidance when planning for your funeral.
  • Who will take care of your children if you die: if you have a child/ren under the age of 18, you can nominate person(s) who will become your child/ren’s legal guardian and take care of them until they turn 18.
  • Gifts: you can state where your personal possessions, money and home should go after your death (you may wish to leave a sentimental item, leave a sum of money or gift your property).
  • Rights to occupy your property after your death: you may wish to protect a person/people who need to remain living in your home after your death and, if required, set a period of time and conditions upon which they may be allowed to remain living in your home.
  • Your residuary estate (this is everything you own at your death, less any liabilities and your funeral and testamentary expenses): you can specify who should receive this after your death.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other things you need to include within your will such as a trust or business interests that you may have.

You may also need to consider some Inheritance Tax planning or take advice on arrangements which could help preserve your assets for your intended beneficiaries or in particular vulnerable beneficiaries.

How easy is it to make a will?

It is a lot easier than you think to prepare a will. The process from start to finish typically takes no more than three to four weeks. The typical process is:

  • You have a meeting (face-to-face or remotely via video call or telephone call) with your solicitor to tell them about your personal circumstances such as details about your family and a rough idea as to the size of your estate and what it includes.
  • Your solicitor will prompt you for any additional information they may need.
  • You give the solicitor an overview of how you would like your estate to be dealt with after your death.
  • Your solicitor will then prepare a draft will for you to consider and this will be posted or emailed to you for review.
  • You let the solicitor know of any required amendments or whether you have any questions or need anything clarifying.
  • You then meet for a second appointment to sign the will and the matter concludes.
  • Your original will is stored by the solicitor and a copy of your signed will is given to you for you to store with your important papers at home.

What if I don’t need a will?

There is a common misconception that you only need a will if you have a large estate (for example:  you own a property or you have a large amount of money in the bank). This is simply not the case. Regardless of how small or large your estate, you should have a will in place.

Another common myth is that you only need to prepare a will if you are unwell or are elderly. Again, this is not correct.

A will gives you the opportunity to set out your wishes during your lifetime and can make matters far easier for your loved ones to deal with after your death. If you die and you do not have a valid will at the date of your death, the law sets out who benefits from your estate and this may conflict with your wishes, meaning people you had hoped would benefit, might be prevented from doing so.

A will gives you the opportunity to set out exactly who should receive anything from your estate.

Once my will is in place, do I need to do anything else?

It is strongly recommended that you review your will every two or three years (and no more than five years), or as and when circumstances change.

Changes to your circumstances that may affect your existing will may include:

  • Marriage, divorce or separation of you or any of your beneficiaries.
  • The birth of children or grandchildren.
  • Your child(ren) turning 18 and legally entitled to act as an executor.
  • The death of any executor or beneficiary.
  • Retirement and/or the receipt of a pension or payment of an investment.
  • You inherit from another estate.
  • The sale or purchase of a property or business.
  • Changes to tax legislation that may affect your assets.

If your circumstances do change, amendments can be made to your existing will to ensure that it is up-to-date and still relevant.

By keeping your will under review, you can also be sure that you are receiving up-to-date advice, including the latest advice on Inheritance Tax. (could perhaps have a hyperlink to a separate article on Inheritance Tax here?)

For further information on why you should have a will see also our article that outlines the Intestacy Rules that came into force in 2020.

If you are considering making a will, or need to review your existing will, please contact Harrison Drury’s private client team on 01772 258321.

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