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Why making a will is so important: Q&A

25 February 2021

Put simply, creating a will ensures that your loved ones will be properly provided for and do not unexpectedly find themselves dependent on others. While many think their home and possessions will pass to their immediate family by default after their death, this is a common misconception; there is no guarantee this will be the case without a will.

Watch the video below, or read on to learn more about the importance of making a will.

I don’t own property or any large assets – do I still need to make a will?

A will encompasses all your estate, not just property and money. Your estate can include assets such bank accounts, business interests, investments, belongings and even your digital assets.

Having a will in place can also make life easier for whoever is dealing with your estate after your death. A will allows you to set out in writing who you want to deal with the administration, who should look after your children and who your assets should go to. By making a will, you set out clear guidelines for your loved ones and the relevant authorities.

How does a will make sure my assets go to the people I want them to?

Your will is your chance to say how you would like your assets to be distributed after your death. There are many ways to do this, for example through a direct gift or by putting assets in trust. A trust enables you to provide for someone without giving them ultimate control. This can be key if there are young children in the picture, or beneficiaries who are unable to manage money for themselves.

Provided that it is properly prepared and executed, a will is legally binding.

What happens after I die without making a will?

If you die without making a will, the intestacy rules govern what will happen to your assets. The intestacy rules first came about in 1925, and although they were updated in 2014, many provisions remain unchanged. The effect of this is that the rules don’t necessarily reflect the complications of modern life and the family setup, particularly for the younger generation.

For instance, there is no provision for unmarried, cohabiting partners. This is significant, since, according to ons.gov.uk, “69.2% of those aged 16 to 29 years who were living in a couple were cohabiting.”

The law can change, however, so even if the intestacy rules suit your circumstances now, the result could be different after you die. A will is the only way to make sure your loved ones are provided for in the way you would want.

Do I need to make a will if I don’t have a partner or children?

Anyone with assets can choose who will receive those assets when they die. You may have close friends or neighbours who you would like to acknowledge in your will or you may have assumed responsibility for the maintenance of a vulnerable but remote family member.

Making a will is also particularly important if you have business interests. Business owners may also have an obligation to facilitate a smooth transition of their business interests to their partners; this can only be arranged through making a proper will.

Can I edit my will if my circumstances change?

As your life circumstances change, it is sensible to keep your will under regular review. It is important to note that, if you marry, divorce or re-marry, your existing will may become invalid or no longer reflect your wishes.

Changes to a will needn’t be complex; once a will is prepared, small changes (such as a change of executor or the removal or addition of a clause) can be made by making a simple codicil. This is normally a short document, outlining the changes to the original document.

In circumstances where there has been a significant change, it can be simpler to make a new will altogether. This ensures that nothing is lost in the translation of two separate documents. Fresh wills automatically revoke the earlier document, removing any confusion.

Does a will need to be bespoke?

Yes, your will should be tailored to your needs and wishes as an individual. For example, some wills have trust provisions in place to provide for younger or vulnerable family members. Some wills may provide rights to occupy a property or to receive income for the lifetime of a surviving partner.

It remains the case that, while many wills appear simple, there is no one-size-fits-all. You should seek advice from a qualified, experience professional to ensure that your will is valid, suitable and reflects your wishes.

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Simon Cook leads our wills, trusts & probate team. A specialist in complex estate and tax planning. Simon is noted in prestigious independent legal guides The Legal 500 and Chambers High Net Worth. Throughout April, our wills, probate and trusts lawyers are donating their expertise and time free of charge to write or update straightforward wills and in return people are asked to make a donation to Cobalt.

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Simon Cook LLB (Hons), TEP
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