Why do I need to make a will?
A properly written and witnessed will is the only way to ensure that your assets will be passed on to the people you choose in the event of your death. It is also a useful place to record your funeral wishes and to make provision for your children to be taken care of by your chosen guardians. A professionally drawn will may also allow you to maximise the use of tax exemptions and protect assets from local authority means testing for care home fees.
What will happen if I do not make a will?
If you don’t make a will then your assets will be divided between your relatives in accordance with the intestacy rules. This might mean that your assets end up with distant relatives who you have no contact with and that conversely friends who you might wish to benefit receive nothing at all. If you die and you have no relatives at all then all of your assets will pass to the Crown as “bona vacantia”. In other words, the government of the day will receive your hard-earned cash!
If I haven’t made a will does my partner automatically receive my assets?
It depends. If you are married or in a registered civil partnership and you have children then the intestacy rules say that your spouse or civil partner will receive all of your personal belongings and the first £250,000 of your estate. The balance of the estate will be divided equally between your children on the one hand and your spouse or civil partner on the other. If you don’t have children then your spouse or civil partner will inherit everything you own.
If you have a partner but you are not married or in a registered civil partnership with them then should you die intestate your partner will not be entitled to anything from your estate. Note that there is no such thing as a “common law spouse” so it doesn’t matter if you’ve lived with your partner for many years – they still won’t be entitled to receive anything.
The intestacy rules only apply to assets that you own in your sole name, though. So, if you own a bank account jointly with your partner, the balance in that account will pass automatically to your partner when you die. The same goes for jointly owned property (although different rules apply to property which is owned as “tenants in common”).
I have had a divorce/separation, should I make a new will
In a word, yes! It’s a good idea to review your will as soon as you know that the marriage is in difficulty as you presumably won’t want your spouse to inherit your estate if you die before the divorce settlement is finalised. You might also want to speak to your parents about updating their wills, otherwise anything you inherit from them will fall into the “pot” of matrimonial assets to be divided up by the divorce court.
Can my executors also be the beneficiaries of the will?
Yes they can so long as they are over 18 and have not been made bankrupt. Sometimes it’s advisable to have an independent executor as well to make sure that there is no conflict of interest, but for a straightforward will there’s usually no reason why one or more of the beneficiaries shouldn’t act as executors.
I am getting married soon, should I make a joint will?
We wouldn’t recommend a joint will, but we would certainly advise you to make a will. Any will that you’ve made previously will be automatically become null and void the moment you get married. So before you say “I do” it’s a good idea to make a new will which states that it is made “in expectation” of your marriage. That way your careful estate planning won’t go to waste.
If I am not from the UK can I make a will in the UK?
Yes, you can, although the will would normally only cover your UK assets. You would need advice from a lawyer in your home country as well to make sure that the UK was recognised by your home country’s legal system and to advise you on any tax issues back home.
Can I make a will if I have property overseas?
Yes you can, although we can only advise you on the legal system in England and Wales. We would usually recommend that you make separate wills to deal with your assets here and abroad and that you take legal advice in the country where the property is situated. Different countries can have very different systems of inheritance to our own, which is why local advice is crucial – for example, French inheritance laws require parents to leave a specified share of their estates to their children. If you make a will in another country it’s vital that it doesn’t revoke your UK will or vice versa, so both wills must be carefully worded to avoid this.
Can my partner and I make separate wills?
Yes you can, and this is what we would recommend anyway.
Can I change my will in the future?
You can change your will as many times as you like during your lifetime, so long as you still have “testamentary capacity”. In a nutshell this means that you are mentally capable of understanding what a will is, what assets you own and who you might expect to benefit under the will.
Where should I keep my will?
You need to keep your will somewhere safe as, unlike property ownership, there is no compulsory register of wills in the UK (although there is a register that you can use on a voluntary basis, called “Certainty”). We suggest that you lodge your will with your solicitor or your bank or else keep it somewhere safe at home. If the original will goes missing, your executors may be able to rely on a photocopy of the will, but there will be extra processes to go through to do this, so it is far better if you don’t lose the original document. It’s also important not to write on or mark the original will (and this includes not paper clipping or stapling anything to it) as marks on the will may cause problems with the probate process after your death.
Should I keep a copy of my will?
We will always send you a photocopy of your signed will once it’s complete. It’s a good idea to keep the copy at home so that you can remember what your will says. We recommend you review your will at least every five years to check that it still meets your needs.
What are mirror wills?
Mirror wills are wills made by a couple (usually spouses or civil partners) where the contents are “mirror images” of each other. So, for example, a husband might leave everything he owns to his wife and she might leave everything she owns to him. Both wills would provide that the couple’s combined assets would pass to their children once both spouses have died.
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