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Do I need a will?

23rd October 2018

It’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Why do I need to write a Will? I don’t own anything worth leaving?”. This is a misconception with regards to wills and Estate planning. It is not true that only the older and most financially successful amongst us need to write a Will. Besides, even if you truly have very few possessions, you probably still need to leave instructions to someone in a Will. For starters, whatever your beliefs about life after death; most of us would like to have a say in what happens to our body after we have gone.

In reality, you almost definitely own more things ‘worth having’ – or should we say worth leaving – than you realise. It is not the case that you need to own a huge country home, collection of vintage cars or an extensive estate to justify writing a Will. In common law, the term ‘estate’, refers to the sum of a person’s assets – legal rights, interests and entitlements to property of any kind – minus any outstanding debt that they may have. Whether you own an extensive estate and countless assets or you have a ‘normal’ estate, you may want to consider writing a will. In this post, we summarise ten items for consideration when writing your will.

1. Appointment of Executors

Your executors are the people who manage your estate and carry out the instructions given in your will when you die. Anyone over eighteen years old can be your executor. Many people choose their spouse, civil partner or children to be an executor. Some people choose a firm of professional executors such as a solicitor, bank or accountant to act as their executor. Given that executors sometimes have to make difficult decisions for example, when to sell your property so as to maximise the proceeds for the right people (usually the beneficiaries) or how to make sure the right amount of inheritance tax gets paid, this is a good idea in many cases. It is also worth noting that you can include your executor in your will as a beneficiary.

In short, your executor will represent your estate for legal purposes and manage the affairs and expenses of your estate. This includes paying any debts and expenses, collecting money owed to them, planning for cash and liquidity needs and if necessary having assets appraised or revalued. As a last resort, there is a government official called the Public Trustee who will be your executor if there is nobody else who can do it. But would you be happy if this duty fell to someone who barely knows you? If the answer is no – decide who your executor is and write it into your will.

2. Appointment of Trustees

A trustee’s exact duties depend on what type of trust is set up. But the purpose of them is to act impartially and in the best interest of the beneficiaries. This means investing all assets in a considered manner, making no personal gain, keeping account of all actions and communicating these to the beneficiaries and acting in accordance with the Trust instrument (if there is one).

If you are leaving anything to anyone under the age of eighteen, this is the most common situation where the appointed trustees are required. In these cases, the money left to the minor beneficiaries will be held in a trust and managed by the trustee until the minors are old enough to access it.

3. Appointment of Guardians

Of course, if you have children under the age of eighteen this is a priority. You need to ensure that your offspring are cared for by responsible adults – usually adults who they already know and are comfortable with. Indeed, if you are already guardian to any non-biological minors – you need to consider who would care for them should something happen to you. 

4. Any cash gifts

This often includes gifts to charity. So, if you are keen to leave something to a good cause upon your death, include this in your Will. Many UK charities gain a significant proportion of their profits from funds left in legacies. Gifts of cash are often made to godchildren or to societies or clubs.

5. Any gifts of personal items they currently own

You may think you do not own anything particularly precious but many of us nowadays own expensive technology, furniture clothes and/or jewellery. If you can imagine your relatives arguing over who should have the earrings you were given on your twenty-first birthday or who should get your brand new Canon camera and tripod – settle this dispute before it has begun.

6. Any gifts of assets such as property, insurance policies, pensions or investments

You may be in possession of assets that you do not view as investments or forget exist, such as your pension, the home you part-own with your significant other, your drum kit or the expensive cooker you treated yourself to last year. These are all things that may be useful to your loved ones or indeed another worthy cause upon your death. It is often possible to include specific clauses regarding insurance policies so you can leave these to your beneficiaries too. The executors and insurance providers will then need to change the name on the policy to the correct beneficiary.

7. Who to distribute my residuary estate to and in what percentages

Once you know exactly what you would like to include in your Will and who you would like to manage this process, you need to decide who to leave your estate to. Of course, you are unlikely to know exactly what the sum of your assets (legal rights, interests and entitlements to property, minus any outstanding debt) will be when the time comes. Common practice to cover this is: once specific items you wrote into your Will have been given to the chosen beneficiaries, you will also have allocated ‘any remaining assets’ to various beneficiaries as a percentage.

8. Do I want to exclude anyone from being a beneficiary?

Although not common, we do see cases where people wish to ensure that certain people are excluded from their Will and are not given any of their estate. Almost anybody can contest a will. So, if there is anyone that you would not like to receive anything but you think may contest you may like to consider including this.

9. Gifts of animals (pets)

If you have children, they were probably top on your list of reasons for writing a Will but have you considered your pets? Who would be happy to have them when you are gone and who you would trust to look after them for you. This is often missed from people’s wills but is an important consideration if your ‘fur-babies’ are important to you. It can also be an emotional decision for friends and relatives to have to make (and sometimes dispute) when this is not included in your Will. 

10. Funeral wishes

Finally, as we mentioned at the beginning, this can be of high or low importance to you personally, depending on your spirituality and beliefs. Whatever these are it is good to express them in your will. If you and your relatives do not have many financial assets to fall back on – but your funeral / how your body is disposed of is important to you – you may like your remaining estate to be divided between your relatives and your funeral costs.

What cannot be included in a will?

We double checked this with the Society of Will writers and can confirm that there isn’t really anything you can’t put in a will other than illegal items.

Read out post on the legal requirements of will writing here:

There’s a way when there’s a will

 

There is a lot to consider when making a Will. You need to think about the value of your estate, not only now but also in the future. Thinking through tax implications is also an essential part of the process. IMC’s expert team of advisors provide a will writing service that is professional whilst supporting you sensitively through the whole process.

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