So many of us have ‘make a Will’ on our long term to do list. We know we need to do it. We know it’s in the best interests of our loved ones and the causes we support. But taking that step means thinking about things we’d rather forget. So we decide to do it another day. This month, however, there is a gentle incentive to move it on to this week’s to do list, because March is Free Wills Month. This means if you are aged over 55 you have the chance to have a simple Will written or updated free of charge by one of the participating solicitors.
So what do you need to consider before you sit down to make a Will and how can you make sure it’s legal? Will writing and estate planning is one of the areas that Private Client Solicitor, Nicola Edmondson of Teacher Stern LLP* specialises in. Here Nicola (pictured below) answers questions about the steps you should take when making your Will.
“A Will is one of the most important documents you will ever need. It ensures that after you die, your assets pass to the people or organisations that matter to you. You can direct what should happen to your money, your property, your possessions and other assets in a Will.
“I frequently hear people say: ‘I’m married, so I don’t need a Will’, or ‘I’ve told everyone what I want to happen, so I don't need a one'. These are common misconceptions, and without a valid Will, the law dictates who will end up inheriting your assets and the people or causes you really wanted to support might well lose out.
“Not only can you direct who your assets should be left to in a Will, but, you can specify other things such as who the guardians of your children should be and any wishes you may have for your funeral. You can also make special provisions for anyone you have particular concerns about, such as vulnerable loved ones.
“Everyone should make a Will but it is especially important if you are unmarried and co-habiting, have children or a business. It is also an opportunity to do some inheritance tax planning.”
“It is really important when making or updating your Will that you meet with a professional specialising in Wills to have it prepared. This is necessary because a professional can ensure your Will is valid. There are strict rules about how a Will is made and the circumstances in which it is made. If these rules aren’t followed, your Will could be invalid, or left open to challenge. This might mean that your wishes aren’t carried out.
"A professional can advise you about all the issues relevant to your circumstances. For example, if you leave a certain percentage of your estate to charity, a reduced rate of inheritance tax may apply to the rest of your estate. There are many technical issues like this which a professional can advise you about.”
“You can leave anything you own, including property and land, personal items, investments, bonds, cash – whether it be owned solely or a share of a joint asset (subject to certain factors).
“Before you meet a professional you will need to begin working out what you have by making a list of your assets and anything you owe (your ‘estate’). You will need to decide on what type of gifts you want to leave.
“There are three main types of gift you can make to your loved ones and organisations supporting the causes you care about. You could leave a pecuniary gift (a gift of a set amount of money), a specific gift (a gift of a specific asset) or a residuary gift (a gift of the remainder of your estate after your debts, funeral and other expenses associated with your estate and other types of gift have been paid).”
“We are lucky in this country to have ‘testamentary freedom’, which means we are largely free to leave our assets to whom we wish in a Will, whether these be people or organisations. However, there are various ways in which your Will can be challenged, therefore it is important to seek professional advice about this when making or updating one.”
“You will need to decide who should carry out the wishes specified in your Will when you die. These people are known as your Executors. If you would like this to be a friend or family member, make sure you talk to them about it first. Your Executors can also be beneficiaries in your Will. Once you’ve done all of this and chosen your Executors, it’s time to meet your solicitor and start writing your Will.”
If you decide to take part in the Free Wills Month campaign this March, there is no obligation to include a gift to Prostate Cancer UK in your Will. But we would be extremely grateful however if, after taking care of your loved ones, you considered helping our work in this way.
We are dedicated to fighting prostate cancer through funding research, supporting men and raising awareness, and rely entirely on donations from supporters in order to fund this work. Gifts in Wills play a huge part of that support.
*Teacher Stern LLP is not participating in Free Wills Month on this occasion.