WILLS

Consider this –

  • It takes longer, and costs more, to wind up an estate if there is no will
  • In Scotland a will is not automatically revoked on marriage, separation or divorce
  • On the death of a spouse or civil partner their estate does not all automatically pass to the surviving spouse or civil partner
  • Children will take their inheritance at 16 – unless otherwise stated in a will
  • Inheritance tax is payable on seemingly modest estates – a will can help reduce tax liability
  • 7 out of 10 people do not make a will – yet without a will the law, not you, decides who gets your estate.

The last fact is particularly remarkable. Those seven people in ten will have no control over what happens to their hard earned possessions as these will be divided up amongst remaining family or relatives, or may even go to the Crown.

If you do not have a will you may be familiar with many of the usual reasons people give for not having one.

Death seems so far away.
You are too busy to think things through.
It will go to who I want it to go to anyway.
Accidents happen to other people.
It is too complicated.
Solicitors are too expensive…..and so on.

You may think you are not rich enough to have a will. Yet you may be far wealthier than you realise and once you add up the value of your house, car, savings, and possessions, as well as any investments including life policies you may have taken out you will realise the true value of your estate.

What happens if I don’t make a will?

If you die intestate (without a will) the law provides that certain members of your family who survive you will be entitled to your estate. How much each member receives is determined by strict rules laid down by Parliament reflecting what it believes is a fair distribution of your possessions.

If you die intestate

  • No account will be taken of your wishes or intentions as to what should happen to your estate.
  • In the absence of an executor appointed in your will the court must appoint a suitable person. This leads to unnecessary delay in completing the administration and distribution of your estate and greater expense.
  • Even if you have a “home-made” will or a will form bought from a shop or perhaps on the internet it may be invalid if any of the legal formalities have not been observed when the will was signed and your estate would then be distributed as if you had died intestate.

Making your will

Making even a simple will requires a fair amount of thought so we recommend that you choose a time when you are free from pressure or anxiety and are in a relaxed and clear sighted frame of mind so that you can decide who will benefit from your estate. You will probably want to talk things through with your spouse or partner if you have one, a close friend, or a solicitor.  It is YOUR will so it should reflect YOUR wishes – no one else’s, but we are here to help you implement your wishes. There are no right or wrong bequests in a will – it is entirely up to you.

You can leave your property and possessions to anyone or any organisation, such as a charity, subject to any legal claim your spouse or civil partner and other dependents may have. You can leave selected items (jewellery, furniture, antiques and so on). You may also have certain family heirlooms which may not be worth much financially, but are of great sentimental value, which you wish to ensure are passed to family members of your own choosing.  If you have a lot of such items sometimes it is easier for this type of bequest to be made in an “informal writing” so that the will itself is left clear and simple.  We can help you with this.

There are a number of aspects you will need to consider and decide upon in the course of making your will. Here are some of the important ones.

  • Executors. These are the people you appoint to be in charge of your affairs and who will see that your wishes are carried out. It is an important position and should be someone you can trust and you think will do the best job , such as a close friend, relative or your solicitor, or a combination of these as you can, and preferably should, appoint more than one person (just in case the first person you choose dies before you.)

There is no problem if the executor also stands to benefit from your estate –this is often the case where a spouse or partner is named as an executor and is also the main beneficiary inheriting the whole estate.  Usually an executor would not be older than you or under the age of 18.  If you wished to appoint perhaps a son who lived abroad with modern communication methods this fact would not preclude him acting as one of your executors.  It is a good idea to mention to the person that you intend naming them as one of your executors just to make sure they will be happy to act in the future this although it is not essential and they certainly do not need to know the contents of your will at the time you make it.

Guardians – are the people who would look after your children and be responsible for their upbringing until they are 18 if your spouse or other parent does not survive you.  You obviously only need to think about this if you still have young children.

Trusts – may be set up to ensure that beneficiaries are looked after until they are able to use their inheritance responsibly.  If you, like most people, think that age 16 is far too young to inherit money, then we can discuss this with you and draft your will to take your wishes into account.  Perhaps you think 18 or 21 would be better.  Many of us now live to a ripe old age and so you should also think about what you would want to happen if one of the people you want to inherit dies before you.  Would you want their entitlement to pass to their children or not?  A member of our ARCS team can discuss all of this with you and tell you the options available to you.

Burial or Cremation – There is no need to say anything but you may have definite wishes for one or the other as well as specific instructions with regard to your remains. You may carry a donor card and wish your body to go to medical research or transplant surgery.  You may wish to put in place a pre-paid funeral plan so that your family do not have to make those kinds of decisions at a stressful time.  We can discuss all of this with you and put you in touch with a local trusted funeral director who will make sure your wishes can be fulfilled.

Residuary Estate – is the remainder of your estate after all the debts, funeral expenses, legacies, individual gifts and taxes have been deducted and all your other wishes have been carried out. You have to decide who you want to benefit from the residue and if more than one person the share of the residue they will each inherit.  Again, you will need to have a think about who you would want to inherit if the residuary beneficiary or one of them dies before you.  By doing this you are less likely to need to update your will in the future.

If you find some of these terms worrying or confusing we can help. The members of our ARCS team who advise on wills have years of experience and are trained to guide you through all the decisions you will have to make in the course of drawing up your will.

If you feel confident that you know approximately what you wish to do please print off the will planner form on the web site, complete it and send it in – in many cases this will give us enough information to prepare an initial draft will that we can then discuss in more detail with you.

Inheritance Tax and Tax Planning

Inheritance tax may be payable on lifetime gifts and on the assets of your estate at the time of your death. The Chancellor in his budget speech sets the threshold at which the tax becomes payable.

It is perfectly proper to arrange your affairs so that on your death, or your spouse’s or civil partner’s death your estate, which represents what you and your family have worked hard to build up over the years, benefits your family or others of your choice, rather than going to the Government in taxation. Although sometimes complicated, tax planning and a well drafted Will can drastically reduce your potential Inheritance tax liability.

We have members of our ARCS team who have the expertise and ability to guide you through the intricacies of inheritance tax, enabling you to capitalise on the various exemptions and reliefs, all of which can reduce the tax payable on your estate.

Why use a member of our ARCS team?

Anyone can buy a will form at a local newsagents or perhaps download one from the internet and draft a will on their own. There are a number of good reasons why this is not a good idea but the main problem is that one mistake or omission, no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is, may invalidate the entire Will. The intention of your will may be very simple but the legal formalities and language required need to be correct. We do always try to use plain English in our documents and avoid Latin phrases and words if at all possible but some words and terms have specific legal meanings which are different from their everyday use.

Trying to write your own will also means that you miss the benefits of discussing your intentions in confidence with an experienced professional who will have taken his or her clients through the same process hundreds of times before. All members of our ARCS team who deal with wills are trained to spot potential problems or inconsistencies which you might miss and to point out possibilities which you may not have thought of.

We will listen carefully to what you want to include in your will and then explain to you the legal and financial implications of your intentions. When satisfied that you are clear and certain on all the relevant points the member of our ARCS team will draw up your will and ensure that it is properly signed and witnessed.

Your will is one of the most important legal documents you are ever likely to put your name to and it is therefore important to keep it in a safe place. We will hold your will in our strongroom and wills safe at no charge.

Finally, do remember that it is important to update your will regularly if your circumstances change.