Hello, my name’s Jennifer Russell, and I’m an associate solicitor in the Private Client team.
The outbreak of coronavirus has prompted many people to make a new will, or review an existing will. However, younger people may question whether they really need to make a will, or whether this is something they can leave until they are older.
Although most people writing Wills in the UK are older than 50, you can write a Will from the age of 18.
A will controls how your estate is dealt with and who benefits from it when you die. If you die without a valid will then you would need to rely on the law, in the form of the intestacy rules, to deal with this, and this may not be what you want. In particular, the intestacy rules make no provision for cohabitees, even if you have lived with someone for many years. If you died without leaving a will, the intestacy rules could mean that your cohabitee would not receive anything from your estate.
In a similar way, the intestacy rules could mean that someone you do not wish to benefit inherits your assets. For example, if you are separated from your spouse or civil partner but have not finalised your divorce he or she could still inherit a significant proportion of your estate under the law. So if you don’t want a partner you have separated from to benefit you need a will to make this clear and state who should benefit instead. It is possible that your will could be challenged, but it still helps to set out your wishes and intentions.
Also, if you’ve had a dispute with someone, you can use your will and a letter of wishes to make it clear that you do not want them to inherit from you and the reasons why.
Another consideration is how you own your property. If you and your partner own your home as ‘joint tenants’ and you die, your partner would automatically own your home in their sole name but if you own the property as ‘tenants in common’ your share of the property would form part of your estate and would pass to your beneficiaries in accordance with your will or the intestacy rules.
You could also give your cohabitee the right to live in your property for a specified period of time. This could provide security for them to be able to continue to live in your home whilst also ensuring the property ultimately passes to your chosen beneficiaries.
If you have children who are under 18, you could use your will to appoint a legal guardian for them.
If you and the child’s other parent both die, the guardian could take over responsibility for your child.
The family court can also appoint guardians, but having a will in place which appoints a guardian helps you to retain some control over the care of your children, if you die.
You can also include funeral wishes in a will.
Discussing funerals with loved ones can be an upsetting conversation and something you might not want to talk about. In a will, you can provide instructions about your funeral arrangements. For example, you might prefer to be cremated or buried, or wish to ensure that your religious practices are followed.
Some people also choose to write a letter of wishes, to let their executors know their preferences. For example, you could ask that people don’t dress in black at your funeral.
It is important to note that funeral wishes are not binding and so do not have to be followed by your executors. Nevertheless, including them can help to avoid family disagreements or assist loved ones and reduce the stress involved in making these types of decisions.
Another important consideration is pets
For many of us, pets are part and parcel of our family unit and we want to know they will be looked after if we die before them. You can nominate someone you trust to take care of your pet in your will but of course, it’s a good idea to check that the person is happy, willing and able to take on the responsibility first.
You could also choose to leave money to that person, so they would not be left out of pocket for the likes of food, grooming and vet’s bills. This could be done by a trust or by a simple cash gift in your will.
If you want to make any specific provisions for a friend, relative or charity, they can be included in your will.
Perhaps you have a family heirloom such as wedding ring that you want a particular member of your family to inherit, or a collection of signed football shirts that you want your friend to receive. If you have any items that you want to go to specific people, your will can ensure this happens.
Instead of leaving a specific item, you may want to give a set sum of money from your estate, for example, £5,000 to your sister or a charity. A will allows you to leave cash gifts like this.
You may also want a specific person to have access to your digital assets.
Digital assets could include photos, email accounts, social media accounts, cryptocurrencies, gaming accounts, music or film libraries and much more. They’re not physical possessions but they may still hold a lot of sentimental or monetary value. You could appoint a specific person to deal with these assets or make other provisions for them.
If you would like more information on writing a Will or have any queries about this article, please look at our website.
Thank you for listening.