Why should you make a Will?
If you die without a Will, UK Law dictates who should inherit your estate (commonly known as the Intestacy Rules). It may be that you wouldn’t have wanted your estate to be distributed in such a way and so it is important to have a Will in place to ensure that your estate passes to the people that you choose.
It would be easier for those close to you to administer your estate when a Will has been made, as this avoids any uncertainty.
It may be that you could reduce a potential Inheritance Tax liability by discussing your circumstances when making a Will with a solicitor.
What should be included in a Will?
You may wish to indicate your funeral wishes in your Will. Although your wishes are not legally binding, it will make your personal representatives aware of your preferences. It is advisable to liaise with those close to you regarding your funeral wishes, as sometimes personal representatives will have organised a funeral before the Will has been read.
Executors and Trustees
Firstly, you need to appoint Executors and Trustees (also referred to as personal representatives). Executors are the persons responsible for administering your estate and carrying out the wishes stated in your Will. They will collect in your assets, pay any liabilities and distribute your estate. You can have one or more Executors, although no more than four. It is advisable not to have too many Executors given that estates can take longer to administer if there are various Executors. Trustees are responsible for managing monies in the estate, for example, if a minor is to inherit money at 18 then the Trustees would look after such funds until the minor reaches 18 at which time they can pay it to them. Executors and Trustees are usually the same people, however you can have different Executors and Trustees if you prefer. The people that you choose for this role should be trustworthy and able to take on the responsibility. Many people think that Executors cannot also be beneficiaries (i.e. benefiting from the estate) however that is not the case. It can make sense for Executors to be beneficiaries as they are administering the estate for their own benefit, but again you must trust your Executors implicitly. If you do not have anyone in mind that could take on the responsibility or no one that you would trust completely to do so, then you can appoint a professional Executor, i.e. solicitors. Please do bear in mind that professional Executors are entitled to charge for the work that they carry out in administering your estate.
If you have minor children, you may appoint Guardians. Guardians are the people chosen by you to take responsibility for your children. Guardians are entitled to receive reasonable expenses from your estate in relation to looking after your children.
Pecuniary and specific legacies
You can leave specific gifts of cash or personal items, i.e. jewellery, to anybody you choose, or maybe even a charity. You should bear in mind that pecuniary legacies will be paid from your estate first, before the residuary estate can be distributed. With specific gifts of personal items, if you give a gifted item away before death or lose it, then obviously the gift cannot be given on your death. If you want to gift a property in your Will, please be aware that any property owned as Joint Tenants cannot be given away in your Will, you would need to be Tenants in Common.
This is everything else that is left in your estate after any liabilities have been paid and any pecuniary legacies and specific gifts have been made. You can leave your residuary estate to one person, or various people in equal shares, or even varying percentages. You can even go one step further and name beneficiaries in the event that your initial beneficiaries predecease you.
Do you need a solicitor?
It is not strictly necessary to use a solicitor to prepare a Will, although it is generally advisable. Many ‘home made’ Wills have proven to be invalid as people are sometimes not fully aware of the legal requirements to make a valid Will, it is not simply a case of putting your wishes on paper. If there are mistakes or errors in your Will, this can create problems on your death and it can be costly to try and rectify the situation. It is therefore better for your own piece of mind to use a solicitor specialising in such matters to assist you.
Where should you keep your Will?
You can keep your Will wherever you think it would be safest, this might be at home or a solicitor’s office. If you choose to keep your Will at home, you should never pin, clip or tamper with the Will itself, as this could create problems when your Will is being proved on your death.