Despite the benefits of writing a will – getting your finances in order, planning your legacy and making sure your loved ones are looked after, many of us are yet to organise our affairs.
Making a will often prompts a financial review, says estate planning legal specialist Martin Engleman.
“I find gaps in people’s financial planning – very often inadequate life assurance or disability income benefit cover, or, if they’re in an occupational pension scheme, they may need to update their nomination of beneficiaries form,” he explains.
Without a will, Intestacy laws determine who inherits your estate and in what order.
“If you don’t have a valid will then effectively state legislation steps in, and provides a series of rules which you may not wish to apply to your assets and your family,” says STEP President Geoffrey Shindler OBE TEP. “It’s also relatively inexpensive, certainly compared to the problems you can create for your family without making a will."
“We spend our lives working to provide for ourselves and our loved ones,” adds Jane Whitfield, chairman of the Law Society wills and equity committee. “Making a will ensures that our estate is shared according to our wishes.”
Gifts do not have to be property or cash but can be sentimental items of lesser material value.
“I’ve been told things like: ‘My grandad’s medals need to go to this person’, ‘my mum’s wedding ring needs to go to the eldest daughter’, says Phil Taylor, owner of Anglian Will Writing. “A will makes sure those items get passed down the line.”
While the first consideration when writing a will is likely to be family and friends, Sue Davison, of fundraising campaign Will Aid, says: “Many people also take the opportunity to give a helping hand to causes close to their heart.
“For many charities, gifts in wills account for up to 50 percent of their income. Without these legacies, much of their work would not be possible.”
Leaving money to charity could also cut your inheritance tax bill. Some charities will even help you write a will if you leave them a donation.
By leaving 10% of the value of your estate to a charity, you can reduce the inheritance tax on some of your assets from 40% to 36%, according to the Money Advice Service
A will allows you to appoint one or more legal guardians for children aged under 18.
“Your chosen guardians will take over the role of bringing up the children on your behalf,” says Whitfield. “It is another way for you to stay in control, and to entrust this important role to people you really trust.”
Choosing your own executor, a person responsible for implementing the terms of your will, can ensure that your estate will be distributed by someone you trust, says Siobhan Rattigan of the Society of Will Writers.
“You can appoint people you know and trust to be your executors and administer your estate. Alternatively, you can appoint professionals to be your executors,” she adds.
There’s a common misconception that the rules provide for a ‘common-law’ husband or wife.
“If you’re not married and you don’t have a will, your partner won’t get anything under the laws of intestacy,” says Taylor. “A will ensures that unmarried couples are able to leave their assets to each other.”
You could also take out a life insurance policy to make sure that your family is more financially secure.
A will should be reviewed at least every three years and every time there’s a life-changing event, for example when a couple has a child or their children become adults, says Howard Harris, a chartered accountant and director at accountancy firm Charterhouse.
“Once you’ve got a will, it’s easy to amend – you can rewrite parts of it with something called a codicil.”
Making a will can take a weight off your mind.
“If you complete a properly-arranged will, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that your assets will go to the correct people,” Engleman explains
“Most of my clients, after they get their wills attested, tell me: ‘I’m so pleased we’ve done that – we should have done it years ago.’”
Writing a will puts a person in the driving seat for the many important decisions, not just in their lives, but also those of their families and friends. Once written, many feel a great sense of relief when they can cross it off their ‘to do’ list - but make sure you update it when you need to.