Another year, another set of new year’s resolutions. What have you gone for this year? We took a straw poll around the Simplify the Law office and came up with these ideas:
- A dry January (a little too optimistic, perhaps)
- Getting fit
- Earn more money
- Get more sleep
- Reduce stress
- Give up smoking
- Stop procrastinating
- Learn to be happier with your life
- Write a will
The list of possibilities is endless. The majority of us make our new year’s resolutions in a haze of excess following the festive period, only for 80% of them to be broken or abandoned almost as quickly as they were dreamt up. Which isn’t demoralising at all.
But how about this for an idea: make a will and knock a few of your other resolutions on the head at the same time. We should make it clear upfront that making a will probably won’t make you any fitter or earn you any more money (sorry to disappoint) – but it should reduce the stress in your life and allow you to get more sleep. Oh, and you might be happier with your life knowing that you’ve cut down on a bit of procrastination.
Who knows, perhaps when you sit down and consider how to provide for future generations, you might decide it would be a good idea to stick around on planet earth for a few extra years. Which could even help with the getting fit and giving up smoking resolutions… Stranger things have happened.
All in all, making a will is one resolution you should prioritise in 2016.
But why is it so important when you could spend the time burning off those extra Christmas mince pies?
Where there’s a will
Fine, you might think, but so what if there isn’t a will? Surely it’s not the end of the world and your estate will simply pass to your spouse, civil partner or family if you were to die? Oh no it won’t (sorry, we’re still in panto season, just).
If you die without a valid will, everything you own from personal belongings and property to money and other assets, will be distributed in line with a set of legal rules known as the ‘intestacy rules’.
These rules are complicated and depend on all sorts of things – like which of your relatives survive you and the size of your estate. But essentially, if you’re married (or in a civil partnership) with children when you die, your spouse will receive all of your personal belongings and the first £250,000 of your estate. The remainder of your estate is then split in half, with your spouse receiving one half and your children the other (including adopted and illegitimate children, but excluding step-children).
If you die with a surviving spouse or civil partner but no children, the law is different. And if your spouse or civil partner dies before you, the law is different again.
Still with us? We told you the rules were complicated. Not that we enjoy saying I told you so…
So how can having a will help?
We can answer this with one word (although we’ll add more underneath): certainty.
Making a will allows you to be certain about who will inherit what. The people you appoint in your will to be your executors are legally responsible for following the terms of your will (assuming it’s been validly executed) – so you know exactly who’s going to get what when the time comes, without any complicated legal rules getting in the way.
And that’s not all. You can also appoint legal guardians for your children in your will, make your funeral wishes known and, with careful planning, minimise the amount of inheritance tax due on your estate. Basically, you’ll be making life much easier for your relatives as everyone will know exactly what your wishes were after your death.
Sounding good so far? Read on.
With the best will in the world
Some of you might be feeling rather smug at this point. We know all this, we hear you say, which is why you addressed the issue and made a will years ago. But hang on, just a few questions:
- Where’s the will now?
- Is it still valid?
- Have you married since making the will?
- Have you had any children?
We could go on: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, re-marriages, sickness, buying properties – any of these could have changed the effect of your will since you made it.
Feeling slightly less comfortable? Don’t worry, you won’t be alone. Most people are blissfully unaware that marriage automatically revokes a will. And when children come along, they’re so caught up in the whirlwind that a new-born brings, their will is the last thing on their mind.
But, it’s a good idea to review your will at least every five years or even sooner, if something major happens in your life. Make sure the people you have chosen to be your executors know, firstly, that they’re appointed (really, some people don’t ask beforehand) and, secondly, where the will is so that it can be located quickly.
So this is all well and good. You now know that you need a will, or that you need to update an existing one.
But how do you do it?
We can answer this one with three words: Simplify the Law.
As ever, we’re here to help. To find out more about creating will and what to put in it, click here…
And to create and download a will for free…