Rebecca Sharp, a partner at Manchester law firm, Slater Heelis, points out the pitfalls of departing this world leaving your intentions unclear – and how to avoid them by simply writing a Will.
Most of us are reluctant to confront the painful fact that we will cease to exist in mortal form at some point in the foreseeable future.
The younger we are, the more indestructible we feel. Most of us reach maturity before we are at least prepared to countenance the unthinkable; that we may die at any time.
Of course, most of us will live to a ripe old age but there will be those reading this who will die earlier than unexpected; perhaps though illness, a sudden event or by accident.
If the unthinkable were to happen, what would happen to your assets, possessions and the wealth you have accumulated?
In short, unless you have made a Will, the authorities will make short work of disposing of your estate. They’ll distribute it along familial lines, perhaps to a distant cousin you hold in low esteem. Those closest to you may get nothing.
Actor Peter Sellers left his three children £800 each, with the bulk of his £5m fortune going to his estranged fourth wife. It is believed he tried, unsuccessfully, to change his Will on the day he died.
If you haven’t made up your mind about your 2016 New Year’s Resolution, you could do a lot worse than make up your mind to write a Will.
Beneficiaries can be close family, friends, partners, organisations you favour, like charities or institutions or any other kind of entity you choose; a regiment, a religion or even an animal.
A Will can ensure your wishes are carried out by a person or persons you trust, acting under the watchful eye of the Probate Service.
You have power over who executes your will
You have the power to name an executor, so you can ensure that your last wishes are in the hands of someone you trust implicitly. In some cases this will not be your next of kin. It might be a professional ‘friend’ or someone you know to be of unimpeachable integrity.
Guardians for your children and protection for their future
One of the most important aspects of writing your will is that you will able to name a legal guardian of your under-age children, too. The courts will pay great attention to your judgment in this regard.
Reduce Family Conflict
A will that clearly lays out your wishes will almost certainly reduce conflict and speculation over your intentions.
Dying ‘intestate’ (with no will in place) can cause permanently damaging family divisions. A will makes it much easier for your family, friends or advisors to sort everything out when you die – without a will the process can be more time consuming, expensive and stressful.
Peace of mind
Most people find that a writing a will at time when they are fully competent gives them a tangible benefit, too. They can stop worrying about what might happen if they lose their faculties as they get older and the aftermath if the worst did happen.
Control over inheritance tax
And then there’s the important matter of how much Inheritance Tax will be paid by your successors and descendents. Careful early planning and a well-constructed will can help reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that may be payable on the value of the property and money you leave behind.
It could make the difference between, say, a family business surviving and prospering or not.
You have control over your ‘final wishes’
You can also use your will to tell people about any other wishes you have, like instructions for your burial or cremation. Your executor will do their best to make sure your wishes are followed. You can also make arrangements to pay for a dignified departure to relieve the burden on others.
Not necessarily a lot of fun, will writing, but eminently good sense!
Promise yourself you’ll speak to a professional advisor about it in January… and book the appointment right now!