It’s a common misconception that our next of kin will automatically inherit our estate after we die – but unless you’ve made a will, that might not necessarily be the case. Only by drawing up a will and naming an executor can you ensure that any cash, property or belongings you leave behind will go to who you intended. Another myth is that it’s only the very wealthy or very elderly who need to put their affairs in order, and the knock-on effect of this is that 60% of UK adults don’t have a will. This could lead to all manner of confusion and legal headaches – not to mention family disputes – should you pass on without a will in place. 

Who Needs To Have A Will?

As soon as you become a legal adult at 18 you are able to make a will – although of course not many people of that age consider estate planning a priority! It’s more likely that once you have children or a spouse, and start to accumulate an estate, that you’ll start to consider what will happen when you are gone.

A lot of people assume that they only need a will if they have property, savings or assets, but there can be family disagreements over the simplest of things when a loved one dies – such as jewellery and other personal items.

What Is A Last Will And Testament?

If you own any assets at all, or have any debts then you definitely need a will – and there’s more to it than just deciding who gets what when you die! You need to nominate an executor; the person who will be responsible for ensuring that your wishes regarding your estate are carried out, and you’ll also need to nominate your beneficiaries – that’s those whom you want to receive your assets.

You can change your will at any time, but the last version of it that exists before you die is known as your last will and testament. It will outweigh any verbal promises or comments you might have made to your loved ones, so it needs to be very clear and legally sound.

Why Do I Need A Will?

If you don’t have a will it will be left to the government to decide how your assets are distributed. This is known as intestacy. It can lead to a lot of expense and delays, as well as potentially causing family disputes – the last thing anyone wants to leave behind after they die.

A will will ‘put your affairs in order’, and will let everyone know what you own and owe, where your assets are located, and who gets what. It also sets out who is responsible for tying up any loose ends.

Do I Need To Instruct A Solicitor In Order To Make A Will?

You’re not legally obligated to use a solicitor to make a will – a cheaper option is to use a professional will writing service. However, if your circumstances are very complex, you might need a solicitor’s legal expertise – and also if you are making changes to an existing will, just to ensure it’s all legal and above board.

How Do I Get Started?

Step one should include listing all of your assets, including any information on property that you own, savings, investments, insurance policies and pensions (even if they are held joint with another person).

Also be sure to list any personal belongings you want to leave to family members or friends, and details of anything you want to leave to charities or organisations.

Once you’ve listed everything you’ll need to appoint an executor who will make sure that all of your assets are divided according to your wishes once you are gone.

How Do I Make Sure That My Will Is Valid?

You’ll have to sign your will in front of two witnesses. These witnesses can not stand to gain from your will – in other words, they cannot be named as beneficiaries in your will.

It’s always a good idea to include a preamble to your will that declares you were of sound mind when you wrote your will, and that you made your decisions voluntarily and free of undue influence.

Who Should I Nominate As Executor Of My Will?

Your executor should be someone you trust, who will have the time and capacity to make sure that the wishes set out in your will are carried out. They can be a named beneficiary of your will.

An executor is responsible for collecting any assets or money that is owed to the estate of the deceased, and for paying out any outstanding debts or taxes etc. They are also in charge of distributing the estate to those who are named as beneficiaries in your will.

What If I Want To Change My Will?

It’s not uncommon for a will to undergo several changes before it becomes your last will and testament – either because you’ve changed your mind about something, or because your circumstances have changed. Events such as divorce, remarriage, births and deaths are all reasons that you might want to make significant changes to your will.

If you don’t want to draw up an entirely new will, you can add a ‘codicil’. This is an update drawn up on a separate document.

Can My Will Be Contested?

Even though a will is a legally binding document that is designed to avoid any disputes, there are circumstances where someone might challenge it.

The most common reason that someone might contest your will is that they believe you lacked the mental capacity to make a will (which is why that aforementioned preamble is a good idea). There are also instances where family members might contest a will because they aren’t named as a beneficiary and believe they are entitled to assets, or they think they are entitled to a bigger share than they were bequeathed.

These situations are more likely to arise when there are dependents involved from more than one family or stepfamily, and it is up to those who want to contest the will to start legal proceedings.

Of course this is a deeply upsetting thought – but it could be much worse if you don’t have a will in the first place.

What Do I Do With My Will Once It’s Done?

To ensure that things run smoothly once you have passed, it’s an idea to leave your will with your chosen executor, or with a storage service. Be sure that your executor knows how and where to access your will quickly following your death.

If you want to speak to someone about making plans for when you are gone, there are many resources available online, or you can contact us at Care In Kent regarding all aspects of end of life care.