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61% of UK adults do not have a will in place, according to Which?.  A fifth of those say they have not written a will as they have nothing worth passing on.

However, a will does so much more than just pass on material and financial assets. It is also used to help let those left behind know your wishes and could be the best way to ensure that they are followed, after you die, these can include:

1. Who oversees your estate

You need to choose who will be the executor(s) of your estate. They will take charge of it and make decisions on your behalf. You can appoint up to four executors but, as they need to make decisions on a joint basis, fewer may be more practical. Executors must be over the age of 18 and it is possible for them to also be beneficiaries of the will.

The executor(s) of your estate will be responsible for following the requests made in your will to the best of their ability.

2. Who cares for your dependents

If you have children or are responsible for looking after vulnerable adults, you can include instructions for their care in your will. This may include who will look after them and where they will live. It is obviously important to involve any potential carers in this decision, as they will need to be prepared for the responsibility and agree to it.

As an aside, nominating someone to look after dependents is only half the job. Making sure that those people have the financial resources to provide the level of care. Therefore, making a will is a good time to make sure your Life Insurance and financial protections are sufficient, and trusts are set up to ensure that the capital paid on death is put in the right hands at the right time.

Aside from human dependents, you can also include instructions for the care of pets in your will. But again, make sure the person or people you nominate are willing to take on the responsibility.

3. What happens to sentimental items

Even if you think you don’t have anything of financial value to pass on, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of sentimentality. If you have belongings which you want to be passed on to specific people, you can include this in your will. You may even want to add instructions for how you want your belongings to be passed on in the future. Though there is no guarantee that they will be followed.

4. Where your money goes

Your estate may not be worth anything right now, but life is quite unpredictable and there is no way of knowing how much will be left when you die. It’s unlikely to happen, but many of us have heard the story about a man who hits the jackpot, only to pass away 24 hours later. Once your estate has been settled, i.e. any costs have been taken out of the money you leave behind, there may be some left, and you will need to leave instructions as to where it goes.

5. Whether you make a charitable donation

You may decide that any money left in your estate once it has been settled is to go to charity. Including it in your will is the best way to continue supporting a cause you are passionate about.

Charitable donations are immediately outside of your estate for Inheritance Tax (IHT) purposes. So, if you had suddenly come into enough money to put you over the threshold, a donation could protect your loved ones from a large tax bill.

6. What happens to you

It’s not a cheerful thought, but some may find comfort in deciding what will happen to their body when they die. You can also include specific instructions for your funeral arrangements, such as music you would like to be played, the clothes you wear and who will be your pallbearers.

What happens if you die without a will in place?

If you don’t have a will, or your current will is not valid when you die, your belongings and estate will be left intestate. That means that the laws of intestacy will determine how your assets are distributed, who cares for your dependents and what happens to any belongings you have.

Of course, there’s a good chance that those decisions will not be in line with your wishes. It will also mean that your loved ones will be subjected to a much longer, more stressful process than if they have a will detailing your wishes available.

What should you do now?

Six things:

  1. See if you could be missing out on other ways to pass money onto loved ones, this may include, Death in Service benefits at work or your pension provisions.
  2. Write a will. If you’re not sure where to start, get in touch with us for help or contact your solicitor. Alternatively, see if Will Aid is for you.
  3. Talk to your loved ones about your wishes and any responsibilities you wish to pass onto them.
  4. When it’s written, make sure your will is kept in an accessible place and tell people where it is. If possible, try to make sure any important documents that the executor of your estate will need, are with it, that includes details of your accounts, insurance documents and your identification, such as passport and birth certificate.
  5. Pass the message on to your family and friends and encourage your loved ones to be equally as prepared.
  6. If you already have a will in place, you’re not done yet. You need to make sure that it is up to date and valid.

It is recommended that you review your will regularly and at major milestones, such as:

  • If you get married
  • If you get divorced
  • If a new baby joins the family
  • If you receive a financial gift or inheritance
  • If your circumstances change
  • If you want to change your beneficiaries

It is often overlooked that milestones such as getting married can invalidate a will, and other changes may mean that the decisions you made previously no longer reflect your priorities, so maintaining your will can be just as important as writing it in the first place.

For more information and help with writing or updating your will, get in touch.

Please note

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate Will Writing