Our new online columnist Tim Reedman talks you through one of the big financial issues of the moment... wills.
Most of us don’t want to think about dying and so it is perhaps no surprise to learn that six out of ten British adults do not currently have a will (www.which.co.uk). We all know how easy it is to defer this crucial decision by thinking it can always wait for another day, but delay can prove to be costly.
We will all die having left a direction as to whom our assets will be passed. What type of direction you leave will of course depend on whether you have chosen to write a Will, or whether you have left this task to the state under what are called the rules of intestacy. If this is the case then the state will determine how your estate is divided up, which is unlikely to match your intentions.
Making a will is crucial for anyone wanting to protect their family from unnecessary anxiety and expense after they die. Only with a valid Will can you be certain that your estate will go to the right people. If you do not draw up a proper will, you run the risk of depriving your spouse or partner of their home, increasing the inheritance tax (IHT) burden and leaving parts of your estate in the wrong hands. Indeed, one of the most common misconceptions is that if you do not have a will, your nearest and dearest will decide how your assets are split. Sadly, this is not the case.
Not leaving a will can also mean extensive legal costs for your beneficiaries; failing to provide for a partner or dependant will mean they will have to consult a lawyer to contest the state’s decisions, with no guaranteed result. Complex cases can require a genealogy expert, at great cost, to clarify relatives’ rights to your estate.
It is particularly important for unmarried couples to draft a will - an unmarried person will receive nothing if their partner dies intestate, regardless of how long they have lived together or whether they have children.
There was a time when you couldn’t go past a bus shelter or stand on a railway station platform without seeing a poster for The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, written by the late Stieg Larsson. But the Swedish author did not leave a will and when he died his estate went to his father, rather than his partner of 30 years. (Source: www.guardian.co.uk November 2009)
The complexity surrounding wills does not stop there. There is an old saying in the legal profession: “Where there is a will there is an argument; or better still, litigation’’. However this does not mean that there is no point in making a will; it simply refers to the fact that too many Wills contain elementary mistakes. These mistakes may mean disgruntled relatives can challenge the will after your death, helping generate more work - and fees - for the legal profession, so seeking advice from a lawyer, who is an experienced practitioner, is, in the first instance, always the most sensible approach.
Many people opt for a so-called do-it-yourself will, which can cost as little as £10 from your local supermarket. But, perhaps not surprisingly, many people who opt for the DIY route make basic errors. Something as simple as naming someone in their will by a shortened name, may create later problems when the will does not match the name that appears on their birth certificate. Such errors can be costly both financially and emotionally.
Arranging for a will to be drawn up is relatively straightforward and, in most cases, should not take much more than an hour or two.
First and foremost, a will needs to be accurate, unambiguous and comprehensive. Arranging a will which specifically sets out your wishes, will give you the certainty that your assets will be passed to your intended recipients. Importantly, if there is any change in circumstances once the will has been drawn up, for example, if you divorce, have more children, or your financial situation changes, then your Will must be updated accordingly.
In addition to writing the will, you will need to appoint executors to make sure your wishes are carried out properly after your death. It is advisable to appoint more than one executor and ideally both should be younger than you.
If you have children who are under the age of 18 then you should also nominate a legal guardian in your will to look after your children. Whilst it is extremely unlikely both parents will die at the same time it is wise to have arrangements in place. Some people may also want to specify their funeral arrangements to reflect their wishes and to take into account religious beliefs.
Bereavement is a distressing time so it is crucial to do all that you can to ease the upset and worry. Seeking specialist legal advice when arranging your Will, is one, if not the most important aspects of estate planning.
To receive a complimentary guide covering wealth management, retirement planning or inheritance tax planning, produced by St. James’s Place Wealth Management, contact Tim Reedman, of St. James’s Place, on 01243 788567, or 07738 832115, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.timreedmanwm.co.uk