I’ve been helping people write Wills for about 20 years now. Yikes!
In that time, I’ve heard many reasons for why someone doesn’t need a Will. As such, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 myths I’ve heard and aim to debunk them for you. Wills are an extremely important thing to get right in life, and you should have all the information before making any lasting decisions.
1. I’m married and so everything will pass to my spouse
This is incorrect. Currently, spouses are entitled to jointly held assets (depending on how they are owned), the personal possessions, and the first £270,000 of the rest of the estate. Everything over £270,000 then gets divided between the spouse and the children. If there are no children, different rules apply.
The rules are complicated and may not deal with your estate how you would expect or want.
2. I don’t need to make a Will: everything will go to my common-law spouse
This is a very common misunderstanding in my experience. Legally, there is no such thing as a common-law husband or wife. If you are unmarried, and have a partner, and die without making a Will, your partner is not entitled to anything from your estate – other than jointly held assets which may pass to them. A Will is crucial in these circumstances.
3. Executors can’t be beneficiaries of a Will
An Executor is the person who administers your estate after your death. There is nothing to stop Executors being beneficiaries of a Will, and in fact they are often beneficiaries. Sometimes Executors receive all or a percentage of the estate, or they may be left a legacy (a cash sum) in the Will. If they are left a legacy it is important to state whether this legacy is conditional upon them acting as Executor or not.
It is essential to ensure that beneficiaries of a Will, including Executors, do not act as witnesses to that Will, otherwise their gift in the Will will fail.
4. My family knows what I want – I don’t need a Will
Your family do not choose what happens to your estate if you do not make a Will – there are strict legal rules about who inherits and who is in charge of your estate if you die without a Will. This may mean your estate passes to people you would not have chosen, and the people you want to benefit may receive nothing.
5. I’ve already made a Will so I don’t need to worry
You should review your Will at least every 5 years, or if anything significant happens to you or your beneficiaries (such as marriage, divorce, birth or death). By reviewing a Will you could protect beneficiaries who have become vulnerable, and you will receive up to date tax advice.
6. I can’t make a Will yet as my assets keep changing
People often say they don’t want to make a Will yet, because they are moving house or changing bank accounts. However, generally speaking your Will deals with your “estate” which means the assets you own when you die. You do not list all your bank accounts and assets in your Will, and so you don’t need to make a new Will every time you change an asset. We recommend instead that you review your Will every 5 years to see if it still reflects your wishes.
7. Making a Will is only for rich people
You don’t need to own a lot to still need to make a Will. Even if your assets are relatively small, such as a couple of bank accounts, there are a number of good reasons to make a Will including:
- Choosing who you want to administer your estate when you die – this simplifies matters after your death and reduces stress for your loved ones;
- Nominating a guardian if you have minor children;
- Distributing prized possessions – such as record collections, sporting memorabilia or items of personal significance;
- Making arrangements for care of your pets; and
- Giving funeral instructions.
8. Making a Will is expensive
A Will is one of the most important legal documents most people ever create.
Making a Will with a specialist solicitor should not be too expensive. It can also save your estate thousands of pounds in inheritance tax, and potentially thousands of pounds in disputes compared to not having a Will or drawing up a Will yourself which is invalid or incomplete.
Be wary of offers to draw up Wills for free, or for a nominal fee. I’ve dealt with cases where Wills were made for free on condition that a company was appointed as Executor, resulting in very expensive fees after death, and I’ve also seen cases where a Will has been made very cheaply, but there were ongoing yearly fees. At Berwins we never insist on appointing us as Executors, and we never charge for storing your Will or other ongoing fees.
9. I’ve made power of attorney so I don’t need to make a Will
Powers of attorney end when someone dies, and so your attorney does not have authority to deal with your estate when you die. You should make both a power of attorney and a Will.
10. I don’t have any relatives and so everything will pass to the Crown
It is true that in some rare cases estates do pass to the Crown. However, in most cases distant relatives are traced – at a cost to the estate. I’ve dealt with numerous cases where estates have passed to relatives that never knew the deceased.
If you believe you have no family, why not consider leaving your estate to charities to help a cause that you support? I’ve prepared many Wills for people with no relatives, and these Wills have made a massive difference to the beneficiaries of those charities. Your solicitor can talk to you about your interests and suggest ideas on how to benefit causes you would want to support.
I believe making a Will is a truly positive act. It simplifies matters for your loved ones at a difficult time, and it gives you the opportunity to make a meaningful difference to people and causes.
Julie Jewers is a Director and Solicitor in our Life department. Why not speak to our friendly team to get your Will written? Simply call 01423 543 102.