Unfortunately, life doesn’t allow us to be around forever. The more prepared you can be now the easier it will be for your loved ones after your gone.
Something you can put in place, although it’s not a legal requirement, is a will. This is legally binding document which gives your personal assets (such as money, property and possessions) to the person – or people – you want to have them after your death. Once you make a will you become a ‘testator’.
Why Make a Will?
Two thirds of the UK population do not make a will and die ‘intestate’. If this happens it means the people closest to you would not get a say in how your estate is shared out. Instead, a court decides who benefits with no regard for what the relationship between you and those people was like. This eventuality can cause delays to the process called ‘probate’ (or ‘confirmation’ in Scotland). It can also mean additional costs are incurred, not to mention extra stress and upset for your relatives at an already difficult time.
Choosing an Executor
One of the main decisions as testator is to appoint an executor. The person, or people (up to four Executors can be named), you choose should be well organised and able to make decisions, as well as provide fair solutions should disputes arise. An executor is the main point of contact for your solicitor and should carry out the instructions in your will accordingly. Executors need to be over 18 and most testators appoint their spouses, children or a close friend.
Writing a Will
The most common way to write a will is via a solicitor. Things can become complex depending on your relationship status and if you have assets overseas but generally you would expect to pay around £150 for a standard will. You can also pay for a will writer to do it. This is a cheaper service at around £75 but will writers are not always legally qualified. Charities offer ‘free’ will writing services but you will be expected to leave an amount of money to them in event of your death. There is another option to write one yourself, you can buy templates online or from shops like WH Smith for around £10, but unless your affairs are very simple this course of action is advised with caution.
You will need to amend your will if your circumstances change in any way. This is called a ‘codicil’ which is a straightforward document allowing you to alter anything from one word to many paragraphs and is a cheaper option rather than writing a new will.
Make Your Wishes Known
There’s usually a section in the will that includes certain requests to be carried out on your behalf, things like whether you’d prefer to be buried or cremated, and where you want to be laid at rest. It’s important to include this level of detail so your relatives know exactly what to do. There is only a short amount of time between a person’s death and a funeral so any firm decisions you can make will be easier for your family.
As a will is a formal document that follows a standard template concerning only your main assets, some solicitors suggest you write additional bequests in the form of letters which they can keep safely and securely alongside your will. These letters, which will be accessed by your executor at the right time, can go into more detail about smaller or lower cost items including costume jewellery, clothing, family keepsakes and knick-knacks etc. Although letters would be not classed as legally binding it is another level of instruction that will help your executor share out your possessions to the right people.
Talk About It
Once you have a will in place it’s really important to let the person you have named as your executor know the plans you have put in place so they can be prepared and act quickly when the time comes. Also let them know who your solicitor is so they can make contact.
Executors will also need access to official documents in order to register your death and get the process of probate or confirmation started. Make sure you have the following information to hand and that your executor knows where to find:
- Bank cards and recent statements for current, savings, premium bonds and pension accounts
- Utility bills and regular payment info such as subscriptions, memberships and donations which need to be cancelled
- Insurance and tax certificates such as your P60
- National Insurance and NHS numbers
- Birth and marriage documentations (including from any previous marriages)
- Confirmation: the process of dealing with a deceased person’s estate in Scotland
- Codicil: an addition or supplement that explains, modifies, or revokes a will or part of one
- Executor: a person, or persons, appointed by a testator to carry out terms of their will
- Intestate: not having made a will
- Probate: the process of dealing with a deceased person’s estate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Testator: a person who has made a will
- Will: a legal document that indicates what a person wants to happen with their assets upon their death