Not leaving a will – known as dying intestate – can make it more complicated and expensive for those left behind to administer the deceased’s Estate. Here we look at why not making a will could leave your loved ones at risk, and how to make a will with the right safeguards.
A will is a legal document you create that sets out instructions for who will inherit your estate and what should happen after you die. It includes what sort of funeral you would like, how you would like your possessions to be distributed, as well as other wishes, like who should bring up your children, if you have them. Sometimes known as your last will and testament, it's a legally binding document If you die without one, your estate will be distributed according to strict rules, meaning the people you care about may lose out.
Top reasons to make a will.
1. Make a will to name your children's guardian. When writing a will, you do not just decide how your estate is divided up. You also have a say as to who should look after your dependents. If they're under 18, you can also appoint their legal guardians. If you do not the decision could be left to the courts, who may choose a person you may not agree with.
2. Ensure your children are provided for financially as well as saying who will raise your children, you can make plans to provide for their future financially. This might include putting aside money for their education, making sure they receive a set amount each year for clothing or hobbies, or establishing a nest egg to buy a home. You may wish to consider setting up a trust to provide for your children, as this gives you an element of control over when your children receive the money, and what it gets used for. There are two ways to set up a trust: you can either establish it while you are still alive or leave instructions for it to be established when you pass away.
3. Provide for your dependents including stepchildren. Your step-children may be a big part of your life, or even be your only children, but the law states that only spouses or blood relatives can automatically inherit if there is no will. If you want to provide for your stepchildren, you'll need to write a will that includes them. The same goes for foster children, or any other dependents who may rely on you for support.
4. Protect your partner. If you're unmarried partners are not legally entitled to anything from your estate unless specifically stated in your will. Writing a will ensures your partner will receive their fair share of your estate. There are also tax implications to consider in this context.
5. Safeguard your family home. If the family home is in your name, your unmarried partner and stepchildren aren't automatically in line to inherit it if you die without a will - meaning they may lose their home. You can leave them a share of the property in your will, or a right to reside in the property.
6. Head off family disputes. Dividing up an estate can sadly sometimes lead to squabbles and arguments among your survivors if there is no will or your wishes aren't made clear. Contested wills can be damaging to relationships among your family and can also be expensive if decisions about your estate are legally contested. A well-prepared will can help avoid these arguments and avoid making your passing even more stressful for your survivors.
7. Avoid paying more inheritance tax than you need to. The amount of inheritance tax that will be charged from your estate depends on how much you have, and also who you leave it to. Anything left to your spouse will be automatically exempt from inheritance tax. Leaving property to your children and grandchildren is also likely to generate a lower inheritance tax bill than leaving it to others.
8. Create a legal will if you're recently married. When you marry, your existing will automatically become invalid. According to the rules of intestacy, this means your estate could end up split between your new partner and children from a previous marriage, potentially causing arguments. And getting divorced doesn't override your will, meaning your ex-partner may still be in line to inherit from your estate. As such, it makes sense to regularly review your will, so it still reflects your situation, particularly after a marriage or separation.
9. Decide who you would like to settle your affairs. Within your will, you can name an executor, or multiple executors, who will be in charge of carrying out your final wishes. Choosing your executor in advance allows you to select the best person for the task. It also gives the executor prior warning so they can prepare themselves. To learn more about the responsibilities of being an executor, have a look at our guide to probate.
10. Say who you want to look after your pets If you have dogs, cats, or any other pets, they may also need to be looked after if you pass away. A handful of dogs have inherited fortunes, it's more common to choose someone to look after them and put some money aside to feed them and look after their health.
11. Protect your digital assets Nowadays, your assets won't just include money in the bank and physical goods. Digital accounts and online purchases, such as music, photographs, or websites, also form part of your possessions and can disappear into the void if you don't account for them in your will. Things like emails and social media accounts also form part of your legacy - do you want the information destroyed, protected, and do you need to make passwords available to your executor?
12. Support a charity. If you support a charity, you may wish to leave something for it when you pass away. As well as supporting a good cause, you could potentially reduce the amount of inheritance tax paid by your family.
Eoin Murphy Solicitors provide a comprehensive will service and succession planning advice and have a wealth of experience in this area. Do not put off making a will under later in life a will is for all ages. Please feel free to contact should you wish to make a will.