A Will is possibly the most important document you will ever own. Your Will, or last testament, is your declaration, and therefore intention, of whom should inherit your estate and any assets. Your ‘estate’ may comprise of property, businesses or other investments that have a monetary value.
A Will sets out your funeral wishes, appoints guardians for children under the age of 18 and appoints executors who have the responsibility to distribute your estates in accordance with your wishes which are set out in the document.
In the event of your death, if you do not have a Will in place, your property and any other assets may be passed to the Crown and you will be classed as ‘dying intestate’. In this scenario the Government will decide what happens to your property, cash and personal possessions. If you are not married, there is also a risk that your partner may not be appointed legal guardian to your children even if they are the father/mother. In addition your family may also have to pay Inheritance Tax (currently at 40%) before your estate is released, meaning that your loved ones may have to take out a loan to settle the bill.
Without a Will your loved ones will not know what your wishes are. They will not know how you would like your estate divided, they will not know if you want to leave any item of sentimental value to a particular individual and they will not know what kind of funeral you would like.
By protecting your estate and ensuring you have a Will in place, you can rest safe in the knowledge that your property or assets will be passed on to those you care about and are divided up as you wish. Having your Will in place in case of any eventuality will give you complete choice, control and peace of mind.
Below are 3 case studies to show what could happen if you die without a Will:
Bill and his wife Carol were married with 3 children under the age of 10. In April 1998 they were suddenly killed in a car accident. They died intestate (without a Will).
The main problem, aside from the distribution of their assets, was that Guardians for their children had not been appointed. As a result, the children became the sole responsibility of Social Services.
Carol’s sister, who lives in Spain, had volunteered to take the children however, Social Services decided that the children would have a more stable upbringing in care in the UK. To make matters worse, the children were placed with separate carers.
The money that Bill and Carol left behind, including their life assurance policies and proceeds from the sale of their home, were taxed. This resulted in an inheritance tax bill of £50,000. The balance, after funeral expenses, debts and taxes had been paid was placed in trust for the future benefit of the children.
The children remain the responsibility of Social Services until they reach 18 years old. At this time any monies left in the trust fund will be given to them.
Pete and Louise had been living together for 5 years when Pete died in a skiing accident. Pete had not written a Will and because Pete and Louise were not married, Pete’s half of the house went to his next of kin, in this case his parents.
Louise had always got on well with Pete's parents, but she was shocked when they forced her to sell the property so that they could access their share of the equity. This meant that Louise had to move out of her home into rented accommodation as she was not able to afford the mortgage on her own.
Due to the fact that Louise and Pete were not married, she was not entitled to anything. If Pete had made a Will, he could have made provision for Louise’s future.
Martin died of a heart attack leaving his wife Gemma, 2 children and no Will.
Intestacy laws dictate that if you die without a Will, you are married, and your estate is worth less than £250,000 your estate is automatically passed to your spouse.
In Martin’s case, his total estate was valued at £150,000 and therefore Gemma was entitled to all of Martin’s estate which was tied up in the family home. Gemma remained in the property and eventually got remarried. Unfortunately, this marriage ended in divorce which resulted in her losing half of the house in the divorce settlement.
As a result Martin and Gemma’s children only stand to inherit half of the estate left when Martin died. If Martin had made a Will, he could have protected his share of the estate for his own children but instead lost it to a man that he had never even met.
62% of the UK population currently do not have a Will in place*. This means that in the event of death, a lengthy legal case could follow in order to distribute your estate. By not having a valid Will written and in place, upon the event of your death, your assets will be distributed according to the Laws of Intestacy, by the authorities.
Making a Will is sometimes considered a job for tomorrow – but tomorrow may be too late. Especially when property or other investments are concerned it’s worth making sure that you have a valid, in date Will at all times. Now is the ideal time.
It is possible to write your Will yourself, but it is always advisable to seek assistance from a professional Will Writing Service, Solicitor or similar, to make sure that your Will is legal and valid. Once you have the basics of your Will planned out, you will need to think about where you wish your assets to go to upon the event of death.
What should be included in your Will?
Once your Will is completed, and it has been checked to ensure its validity and legality, you will need to keep your Will safe. This can be provided for you at a cost by your Will Writing Service or Solicitor, or alternatively you can look after the Will yourself, providing that your Executor is also aware of its whereabouts.
*Source: Guardian 2010
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