Key Considerations When Preparing a Will
Lawyers are always banging on about making wills. The truth is that any adult with a job, financial savings or investments, life insurance of any sort, a house they own and/or a business, should have a valid will in place. This is for two principal reasons. The first is that only with a will can you direct exactly who is to get what. The other is that dying without a will leaves your estate divided in a way that will probably suit no-one and be far from what you want or expect – as well as costing your family much more in legal fees.
More on the merits of wills is for another blog. Today, I want to look at how to prepare for making a will.
Let’s assume that you will engage a qualified solicitor/law firm to create the will. You can do it yourself, use an online service or a will creation company. With all of these you have the risk that the will is not made properly under the law, and thus is invalid – so back to square one.
I see lots of clients of varying ages who come in with an apology – sorry because they have had the making of a will in their minds for months/years/decades but never done anything about it. I stop them and refuse the apology. “But you have now made the decision and we are starting the process – it is not too late!”. Yes, it is wise to think ahead in terms of your passing before death stares you in the face, but it is not an easy thing to consider one’s own demise. Let’s take the positive – there is still time to make the will now.
So what do you need to do to approach the first meeting with your solicitor? You can, if you wish, just come along and be ready to answer questions and discuss options. Our team can walk you through the whole process from scratch. But it will save everyone time - and you money and worry – if you put some ideas and information together beforehand.
- Names and addresses – yours, those of your loved ones and the people you want to inherit your estate or take bequests. The will needs to be specific as to identities, so come along armed with personal details for everyone concerned. Better still – email it in advance so we can copy and paste it into the draft will(s).
- An overview of your property and assets. We generally don’t need bank account numbers or exact balances, but a good description of what you have and what you are worth is very useful - not least so our solicitor can see if Inheritance Tax exposure is an active risk, and thus needs to be taken account of in your will, and in forward planning.
- Information on any debts. This may be mainly your mortgage if you own property, but also any substantial loans or credit card debts.
- An idea of how you anticipate your future. For example, if you know you will pay off your mortgage within say 5 years, then unless you are in an emergency situation suffering from a terminal illness and that’s why you are making a will, you can project ahead and assume you will have the house free and clear at the end of your life, so plan on that basis. Also, consider matters such as when you intend to retire, how well off your children are if grown up, what level of capital and income you will need to get through later life, and any dormant health conditions you have.
- Decide if you wish to leave any money to charity or to specific individuals. I encourage clients to say what they want in a will “I bequeath the sum of £1,000 to my friend John Smith for all the support he has given me” “I wish to leave £500 to Macmillan Nurses because of the support I was given in my illness” or the like.
- Decide how the bulk of your estate (known as the residue) is to be divided and shared out. You may need to do this in “layers” – addressing a number of mutually exclusive scenarios based on “what if?” questions – what if I die and my spouse/partner survives me? What if we die together, or my partner has died before me – if so, are my children to get equal shares? What if, God forbid, one of my children dies before me – has his/her children, i.e. my grandchildren, to get that share in lieu of their parents? What if my first-choice beneficiaries die before me? This sequence may be the longest part of the conversation with the solicitor and is at the heart of most wills.
- Be ready to tell us of any personal wishes that are non-monetary, such as having ashes cast into the sea at your favourite resort, or your body left for medical research (and be sure to tell us of any organ donation card you hold or decision you have made) or playing American Pie at your funeral. The will does not need any of this, but it is your opportunity to personalize the document and tell those looking after your arrangements what you actively want. You may be surprised at how welcome this is to loved ones.
Every will is unique, as is every client. There is only so much I can suggest for preparation. Your conversation with me or one of my colleagues will be personal, bespoke – and confidential. Indeed we are there not just to implement your wishes but to answer your questions and to give definitive advice where something you want to do has additional potential outcomes you don’t expect.
But the final point I make is that you should not be apprehensive or overcautious – certainly not afraid. Some clients for whom we make wills have no other contact with any lawyer, and are not used to the idea of a legal consultation. But we are trained to make you welcome and comfortable.