Where there's a will...

Gillian Cooper
Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
It's not something we like to think or talk about, but leaving clear instructions about how we want our property and possessions to be distributed after we've gone deserves more attention. If you're among the majority who hasn't already drawn up a will, the following may offer serious food for thought...
So why do we put off making a will?

Perhaps it's because the subject is deemed too morbid. Or maybe because the legal jargon associated with the documents is off-putting. Other reasons for burying our heads in the sand - and we do bury our heads in the sand: only three in 10 people in the UK have a will - are no less irrational or ill-founded. Then there are those that admit they ‘avoid tempting fate’ in case signing a will might hasten their death. 'I'm too young for a will' is another one. But by far the biggest misconception is that without a will a person's possessions will automatically go to their family anyway. A Law Society survey found that almost a quarter of respondents subscribed to that way of thinking.

Why do I need a will?
Because it's not that simple, as the huge sums (literally millions) gained by the Treasury from people who die intestate - without a will - proves. What is straightforward, and unchanged for centuries, is the basic function of a will. It's an instruction of how your money, possessions and property should be dealt with when you die. Without it you have no say who inherits the house, car, savings or that priceless antique. Instead, the law decides, and its wishes don't always chime with the deceased's. Unmarried couples, for example, could see the house they share pass directly onto their children, leaving the surviving partner to cope alone financially until that child comes of age. There are plenty of other reasons, of course, why leaving your affairs in order is so important. Not least it will save your loved ones unnecessary distress and time trying to untangle your final wishes. A will can also help reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax payable on the value of your property or any money you leave behind. Finally, it can ensure the financial security of your dependants and loved ones, whether they be young children or the person you're living with.

Is a will still relevant if I have nothing of value to pass on?
Yes, is the answer, because you can also use it to tell people how you'd like to be buried, or whether that cringe-worthy diary you penned when you were 14 really ought to be destroyed, and by whom. Escapologist Harry Houdini famously left his wife a secret code in his will, which he would use to contact her from the afterlife. Pringles founder Fred Baur, meanwhile, requested to be cremated and buried inside one of his cylindrical crisp cans.

How do I write a will?
Your final requests don't have to be quite so off-the-wall. Nor do they have to be prohibitively difficult or expensive to compile. An initiative called Will Aid is a partnership between the legal profession and nine of the UK's most well-known charities. Every November, participating solicitors waive their fee for writing a basic will and instead invite their clients to make a donation to one of these funds. Since launching in 1988, some 275,000 people have used the service, raising £16m for good causes in the process. However, if going to a solicitor sounds too intimidating there are still plenty of other options available. WHSmith has sold more than a million of its ubiquitous under-a-tenner Will Packs, while it's possible to go more DIY still.

But will a homemade will be valid?
A document is valid as long as it explains how your estate will be divided when you die, is signed and dated by you in the presence of two adult, independent witnesses, and then signed by the two witnesses in your presence. Bear in mind, however, that these witnesses (or their relations) can’t be people who stand to inherit anything from you. It must also be obvious that you were of sound mind when you made the will, and it wasn't written under duress.

Don't delay...
Remember, if you don’t leave a will the law decides how your estate is passed on – and there's a chance it may not be in line with your wishes. If you have children or other people who depend on you financially (be they relatives or not), drawing up clear instructions now will help them after you've gone.


  • There are no comments yet, why not be the first to post?
Post a comment