The Importance of Writing a Will
There is a stigma about writing a will – perhaps people think it is bad luck to do it or maybe if they are married or in a long-term relationship, they believe that all their worldly goods will automatically pass to their surviving partner or children. Think again, the law has some quite definite ideas on who inherits in the absence of a will. Some people also erroneously believe that they don’t have enough money and possessions to leave to make it worth writing a will. This is a scenario that risks causing maximum disruption and upset to your family.
For those people who die without leaving a will or a valid will, there is a process ordained by law called Intestacy which sets out how their possessions and money should be allocated and if you are living without the protection of a marriage certificate then you may be in for a few nasty surprises. The law of intestacy does not recognise cohabitation no matter how long or permanent the relationship, it only recognises legally valid situations so marriage and civil partnerships. And don’t think your wishes will count for anything – they will have no legal validity either.
Statistics reveal that around 31 million people in the UK risk dying intestate, that is without leaving a will. That’s just over half the population and this is despite the fact the Law Society de-regulated will writing to make it easier and supposedly cheaper for people to take professional advice and write a will. So, what is the best way to organise writing a will now you no longer have to consult a Solicitor – we take a look at some of the available options.
Using a Solicitor
For many people, this is the traditional and safest route and also probably the most expensive. But some people find this daunting or are put off by the cost. Most Solicitors will quote a set fee for a simple joint will with mutual Powers of Attorney and unless your estate is unduly large or complicated then this process should be all you need. Solicitors are probably the best option if you have complicated financial affairs and/or previous relationships or marriages or if you need tax planning to minimise Inheritance Tax.
The Solicitor will also store the will for you usually for free if they have written it.
Solicitors are qualified and regulated so if there is a problem then your relatives or dependents will have a line of challenge and recourse which may not be available if you choose to produce your will via other methods. Most Solicitors will charge around a couple of hundred pounds for a basic joint will up to around several hundred if there are complicated financial arrangements such as putting assets into trust.
Do it Yourself
There are lots of online templates and internet tools which you can use to write your own will. Just download and follow the instructions. Your choices are then to have it reviewed by a professional like a Solicitor or there are also credible online review services who can check the will for you. Writing the will is just part of doing the job. Making sure it is has been properly witnessed and signed is also essential to ensuring that the will is legally valid.
Use a will writing company
Since the de-regulation of some legal services, it has been perfectly legal to set up a will writing company and there are loads to choose from. These are ideal for people who have a small and straightforward estate and/or who don’t want to pay for a Solicitor.
Will writing companies are not regulated so literally anyone can set one up and open for business; some people are under the mistaken impression that they are under the auspices of the legal profession or some sort of legitimate offshoot and indeed some will writers do tie in with Solicitor’s firms but there is no formal government control of this industry
There are two professional will writing bodies in the UK, the Institute of Professional Will Writers (IPW) and the Society of Will Writers (SWW) who exert some control over their members and most reputable will writers are a member of one or other of these organisations. Beware free will writing companies, ask yourself what is their possible motivation for writing your will? And companies who try to hop on board as your Executors so they administer the estate after death; this is usually the trigger for very expensive fees which might have been disguised or glossed over when the will was executed. There are some good independent and impartial online tools to help you find a reputable and professional will writing company if this is the road you want to go down.
Banks offer will writing services
For many people, this is the perfect combination of avoiding Solicitor’s fees and using an organisation that is known and trusted. However, for that low fee or free service, there can be significant hidden charges further down the line. Typically this will be a clause in the will which gives the bank power to administer the deceased’s estate and charge fees for doing so sometimes couched as a percentage, often as high as 5% which on a sizable estate will amount to a lot of money – not a nice bequest to leave your loved ones when the times comes. These fees often still apply even if the estate is straightforward and most of the legwork is done by someone else. If you are going to use a bank will writing service then ask them whether you can appoint your own executors. If they refuse then you have your answer.
Charity will writing schemes
There is an initiative called Will Aid where Solicitors can sign up and offer their services essentially for free to the public in return for a donation to one of a list of popular UK charities. The suggested donation is £100 for a single will and £180 for a pair of joint mirror wills. It’s a great initiative where the public can still access the expertise and reassurance of the legal profession whilst supporting one of their favourite charities. Will Aid is an annual scheme which runs each year in November. Appointments are made directly to participating Solicitors and fill up very quickly as the scheme has proved so popular.
At other times of the year, you can still approach one of many well-known charities who offer free will writing schemes based on a legacy or bequest in their favour written into the will. However, it is not a compulsory requirement but the participating charities hope that this initiative will encourage people to plan for the future, write a will and also focus on which charitable causes they would like to benefit from their estate. More than one hundred charities are signed up to the National Free Wills Network and it is not unusual for the service to only be offered to paid up charity members and older people, generally the over 55s.
A word of caution
With so many different family arrangements these days, multiple marriages and different relationships, life has never been more complicated which is why it has never been more important to organise your affairs so it is clear what you want to happen to your worldly possessions after your death.
However, if you do write a will, then you need it to be legally valid and correctly attested and executed so it is important that you take appropriate and genuinely knowledgeable advice or your family could find themselves in a difficult situation after your death. An invalid or ambiguous will is probably just as bad if not worse than no will at all.
Remember, you should usually pay some sort of fee to have someone write your will or check a will you have written; be suspicious of a zero fee organisation as there is likely a clause somewhere hidden in the will which gives them access to a generous line of revenue from your estate after you die.
Amending your will
When you are deciding on who to use to draft your will, don’t forget that your will should be reviewed every few years or so to take account of changes within the family or new things you want to specifically bequest. You don’t have to write a completely new will each time you do this but can add a bit on – this is called a Codicil which is just a variation to the original document.
When you are choosing who to write your will, always bear in mind that you will want to review the will and perhaps add one or more codicils at a later date. Most reputable will writing companies offer this facility as do Solicitors but find out what the charges are before you go ahead. You also don’t have to back to the original will writer to execute a Codicil.
Give us a clue
If you have written a will then people need to know where it is; it’s no use to anyone if its location is a closely guarded secret. Log the location of your will on your Aura page and tell your immediate family where it is and, if you update it.