Wed 31 Oct 2007
Clients often ask me, “Why do I need a will?” Many people share common misconceptions — that only the wealthiest need a will, or that the process of making one is complicated or costly. What I have learned through the years is that everyone needs a will and that it is far more costly to avoid making one.
Without a will, you leave important decisions to someone else to make after your death. Make a Will now for real peace of mind. I have noticed that people generally manage their lives quite well but leave things in an utter mess when they die.
A will lets you specify how your assets will be distributed and how taxes, if any, will be paid. You can select whomever you wish to administer your affairs. Without such a plan, your state of residence determines who receives your assets and how the taxes will be paid. The courts may become actively involved in administering your affairs, and they may award property to relatives you would never include, but overlook friends or charities you want to remember.
It is a strange fact that around 70% of people have not made a Will, but the consequences of dying without one can be serious. Everyone urgently needs a Will; If you don’t make a Will you die intestate, which means that everything you own is distributed under rules laid down by law irrespective of the wishes of your family.
Without a Will, your wishes are ignored and you cannot control who will inherit your property after your death. Most people know they need a Will but simply ‘haven’t got around to it yet’!
It’s not something that anyone likes to think about, but deciding what happens to your estate when you die is crucially important for ensuring that your loved ones are looked after when you’re gone and that your assets are distributed as you would have wished.
Another important point to bear in mind is that if you don’t have a will, you won’t have a named executor to carry out the administration of your estate and the responsibility will fall upon your beneficiaries, whom you may deem unsuitable to handle your affairs.
Making a will has other advantages too – planning your estate and who will inherit may help you to minimize the impact of the inheritance tax laws.
The big question for many people is whether it’s necessary to employ a solicitor to set up a will. The answer is no, but it is certainly recommended, particularly if your estate and personal circumstances are rather complex. It’s also easy to make seemingly simple mistakes which could end up having significant consequences.
Also think about who you want to appoint as executor of your estate and who you want to look after your children should you die before they reach the age of 18.
You should certainly consider using a solicitor if you have complicated personal circumstances, for example if you live with someone who isn’t your spouse or civil partner, if you have a dependant who is unable to look after themselves.
It’s not possible to write alterations onto an existing will. Instead you must either write or draw up what’s known as a ‘codicil’ or draw up a new will entirely new will entirely. A codicil is like an addendum to your will. It doesn’t replace the original will, but makes alterations to one or more of the sections. When you draw up your new will, you should insert a clause at the beginning to explain that this new will revoke all previous wills and you must destroy it yourself too, otherwise it may still be considered valid.
What should be in your will? In addition to identifying who will manage your affairs, you can allocate your assets through bequests to give a fixed dollar amount, a specific asset, or a percentage of your estate to your beneficiaries. You can make outright gifts, gifts in trust for children or grandchildren, and gifts to charities.
If you do not have a will in place, I recommend that you make one — sooner rather than later. I think you will find that it’s worth the peace of mind.