You may have plans for your estate after you pass away, but unless you have a will, there is no guarantee your wishes will be adhered to.
Making a will is about more than just ensuring your assets are distributed the way you want after you’re gone – it’s also about providing for your loved ones and sparing them the stress and expense of having to settle your affairs.
It is also a process you should go through as soon as you experience any major life event or change – from buying any significant asset to getting married or entering into a civil partnership.
Why should you make a will?
A will is intended to detail your wishes for the distribution of your estate upon your death. It also sets out whose care you want to leave your children in. This is one of the main reasons making a will is important for younger people.
If you don’t have a legally valid will in place when you die, the law dictates what will happen to your assets. And this may not be what you want to happen. This is particularly relevant if you are in a relationship but not married or in a civil partnership, as your partner will not necessarily inherit anything.
Dying without a will is known as intestacy. Dying intestate means your family will not have any legal say in how your assets are distributed. For example, the law states that if you are married, your spouse will inherit most or all of your estate, leaving your children with nothing. This is true even if you are separated.
Meanwhile, if you do have children or grandchildren, the amount they are legally entitled to depends on where you live in the UK, with the rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland being different to those in England and Wales. Any Inheritance Tax that they may have to pay could be higher than if you had made a will before dying.
In addition, if you die without any close relatives still living, your whole estate could pass to the government.
So to ensure you can rest assured, knowing your family will be looked after in the way you want, making a legal will is the best decision.
When should you make a will?
You can make a will at any point in your life after turning 18. The importance of having a will in place will depend on your specific circumstances but is usually the right thing to do when it comes to providing for your family.
Consider your life situation. Are you married? Are you a parent? Do you have a positive net worth? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you should make a will.
It is also essential to update your will any time you reach a new milestone or your situation changes. If you buy a new property, have a child, receive a financial windfall or experience a change in your relationship status, you will need to update your will to reflect your different circumstances and revised wishes for the distribution of your estate.
There is also the possibility you are going to take part in a risky activity – whether that’s a form of extreme sports or visiting a dangerous part of the world. If you know you will be putting your life at risk in the near – or distant – future, you should ensure you have a valid will in place in case the very worst happens.
You may also have to update your will for a reason entirely unrelated to you. This could be down to your chosen executor. If they pass away before you do, move away or become otherwise unable to carry out this duty, you will have to revise your will and name someone else as your executor.
If a named beneficiary in your will passes away before you do, you will also have to update your will.
What to include in your will
As well as setting out who you want to appoint as guardian to your children and who you will leave your property and other physical and financial assets to, you can specify who will take ownership of your digital assets.
In today’s world, we tend to spend a great deal of our lives online. We have social media accounts, email accounts and online shopping accounts. We also have photographs, films and music stored online, which form part of your possessions.
You should therefore set out who you want to leave these items to. You should also request that a certain person or people take control of your online accounts. You should therefore leave passwords and other login details to your chosen executor.
However, don’t include any of this information in your will as others could then access it. Rather, keep these details in a separate document and provide instructions on how to find it.
You can also state your wishes for your funeral, as well as any care instructions for pets.
Although making a will may not be a thought you relish, doing so will ensure your wishes will be adhered to and your family will be looked after. Knowing a specialist wills solicitor has guided you through the process will also give you the confidence that everything is legally valid, making the situation less stressful for your loved ones.