Most people know that they need a Will, but according to recent statistics, as many as 30 million UK adults have not made a Will. According to this report; more than half of UK adults don’t have a Will, but only ten percent of those have not even considered it.
This report breaks down the numbers of people who do not have Will.
|20 – 29||83%||84%||87%|
|30 – 39||80%||78%||76%|
|40 – 49||69%||68%||65%|
|50 – 59||54%||54%||59%|
|60 – 69||27%||27%||31%|
Table showing the percentage of UK adults without a will from 2013-2015
So where is the disconnect? You know you need a Will, but the chances are, you don’t have one. There is a problem.
Everybody should have an up-to-date Last Will and Testament.
We believe there are a few issues;
Many people don’t know how to write a Will. You may think that the first step is to make a phone call to a solicitor. This immediately presents a barrier because the appointment with a solicitor will be expensive and inconvenient. The barrier is so great, that literally millions of people procrastinate and wait for some later time in the future to write a Will.
But writing a Will needn’t be that complicated. It is simply a matter of having a clear plan in your head, and then looking for an online interactive service like the one at LegalWills.co.uk to turn your plan into a final document. With this in mind, we have created the five simple steps that explain how to write a Will.
Step 1 You must think about your key appointments
We put this first because it often takes some consultation. In fact, even if you prepare your Will through a solicitor’s office, you should still resolve these appointments before meeting with the solicitor.
Specifically you will need to appoint an Executor and a Personal Guardian for your children. You will also need to make alternate appointments if these first choice selections are no longer available for whatever reason.
Choosing your Executor
Your Executor is a key appointment in the Will, as this person has the responsibility to carry out the instructions. They are also responsible for taking care of funeral arrangements.
The Executor’s key responsibilities include the probating of the Will, gathering and securing the assets, paying any debts and taxes that are due, and then distributing the assets in the estate to the beneficiaries.
The securing of the assets is often one of the more troublesome tasks. It is not uncommon for a person to die, and there be a free-for-all as loved-ones pick through family heirlooms and help themselves. This is stealing from the estate, even if the items were verbally promised to certain family members. It is important for the Executor to immediately change locks, and prevent any valuable items from disappearing.
Clearly when selecting your Executor you are looking for somebody with key attributes. They will have to be capable of handling the paperwork associated with probating the Will and filing the taxes. They must also have the diplomatic skills to work with grieving family members. And they must be trustworthy as they could potentially be dealing with significant sums of money.
For many people, the first choice Executor is straightforward, and is often a spouse, or immediate family member. But alternates can sometimes be more difficult to find.
You may want to appoint joint Executors, who must work together to administer an estate, but you would need to be clear in your Will whether the alternate Executors will be jointly responsible to every decision and have to reach agreement on every decision, or whether they simply need to just work together to cover different parts of the estate administration.
If you cannot find a family member or friend that possesses all of the attributes demanded of an Executor, then you can use a professional; either a solicitor or a bank. Be very careful though because there have been many exposés highlighting the over-charging by professional Executors, including this Guardian article entitled “Probate, The £600m RIP-off.”
The reason why this is step one in the “How to write a Will” infographic, is that we strongly recommend that you check with your appointee that they are willing to take on the task. If their appointment is a surprise to them, then they are perfectly entitled to turn down the appointment. It is better for them to do this before the Will is written, than after you have died.
Choosing your personal guardians
If something were to happen to both parents, the courts will appoint a personal guardian for your young children. Hopefully, at this time, people will present themselves to a judge as willing and capable guardians, and the judge will hopefully make the best appointment.
However, you can help this process by naming personal guardians in your Will. If you do this, then the judge will use this appointment as the key factor in determining the most appropriate person to take care of your child or children.
Clearly, circumstances may have changed since you wrote your Will, so a judge still exercises some discretion, but for the most part, they will grant guardianship to the person that you have named in your Will.
But decided on the most appropriate person to serve as guardian to your children is not always obvious. You may wish to consider factors like;
- Their relationship to your family
- Their location
- Their financial means
- Their own family dynamic
- Their religious or spiritual beliefs
- Their parenting philosophy
- Their age
As with the Executor appointment, it is absolutely critical that you discuss this with your preferred choice before you name the person in your Will. Just because you have named a person in your Will as the guardian of your children, they have no legal responsibility to take on the role. If your chosen guardian refuses to act, and they are named in your Will, then the judge will be left to make the appointment for you, and they will not have your personal knowledge of your extended family.
Step 2: Consider your distribution plan
When you think about your Will, you probably consider it in terms of the distribution of your estate – who will receive what.
It is important to have a plan for this before you sit down and write your Will because it takes some thought. There is no need to list all of your assets in your Will; you don’t know when the Will is going to come into effect. It could be tomorrow, it could be twenty years from now. Your assets will almost certainly change over time and you don’t want to have to update your Will every time you gain or lose an asset.
The vast majority of Wills created at LegalWills.co.uk have a single main beneficiary and say something like
“My entire estate to my wife, Jane Smith”
Often people also include specific bequests to named individuals so that they may leave a family heirloom or a sum of money to a specific person, and the remainder (or residue) goes to their main beneficiary.
This is an excellent opportunity to think about charitable bequests, or “planned giving”. According to Russell James, 80% of all charitable bequests come from people dying over the age of 80, and only about 2% of charitable bequests come from decedents under the age of 60.
At LegalWills.co.uk we make a point of prompting every single user to consider charitable giving with the result that about 3.7% of all of our users have included a charitable bequest in their Will. We would love that number to be higher, but our attempts to partner with charities has so far been a little frustrating.
Creating your alternate plan
Usually the plan for the distribution of your estate doesn’t take a great deal of thought. But working through alternate plans is where it can become challenging. If you have children, then most likely, your alternate plan will be to distribute your estate equally between your children. However, if your family structure is anything different, then you may have to perform some mental gymnastics to work through different scenarios.
Our service at LegalWills.co.uk ensures that there will always be a distribution plan no matter who pre-deceases who. So if you have a plan whereby everything goes to your spouse, but if you are involved in a common accident, then your estate will be divided between your nieces and nephews. You would also have to describe what will happen if any of your nieces and nephews pre-decease you. Would their share go to their own family? or would it all be shared between the other nieces and nephews?
This is one of the key advantages of an interactive service like the one at LegalWills.co.uk when compared to a blank form Will kit. You cannot be left with a distribution plan that doesn’t work.
Step 3 – Go to www.legalwills.co.uk
This is one of the easier steps in the process. If you already know the names of your key appointments, have had the discussion with them, and understand your distribution plan. Then going through the Will writing service at LegalWills.co.uk will only take about 20 minutes or so.
You set up an account for yourself, just so that you don’t have to complete the service in one sitting, and can return at any point to continue your work using your unique User ID and password.
There are nine key sections in our MyWill service;
Section 1: Introduction and service description
Section 2: Personal Details
Section 3: Family Information
Section 4: Other Beneficiaries
Section 5: Guardians for Minor Children
Section 6: Executor
Section 7: Distribute Your Possessions
Section 8: Trusts for Young Beneficiaries
Section 9: Forgive Debts
Some of these, particularly section 7, have subsections, but at a high level, these are the section to be completed. The subsections will ensure that you have covered all of the “what-if” scenarios.
Once you have stepped through the service, you can pay your £24.95 and then download your Will as a PDF file. It is vital that you read through the document, understand it and make sure it reflects your wishes.
If not, log back into your account, make the required changes and print a new document.
Step 4 – Document your assets
Although this is not a required step in preparing your Last Will and Testament, we regard it as a vital, often overlooked, part of the estate planning process.
Once you have passed away, your Executor will be tasked with gathering up your assets so that they can be secured and distributed according to your wishes. But this can be an incredibly difficult job if your estate has not been documented.
Years ago, an Executor would go through your personal papers and check things like bank statements and bills. Today, people generally have more assets scattered across different banks or even different countries. There may also be online accounts with very little paperwork and documentation.
Many of our parents had one job for life, with a pension, a bank account and maybe an insurance policy. Our lives are not like this anymore.
What makes it particularly challenging is that your Executor will never know if they have tracked down all of your assets. They cannot know what they have not discovered.
So it’s worth taking a minute to think;
if something were to happen to you right now, would your loved ones know the location of all of your assets?
According to this article in the Telegraph, there are billions of pounds sitting in dormant bank accounts that nobody has claimed. Chances are, many of these are owned by people who have died, and their Executor had no idea that the account existed.
In addition, there are premium bonds (and prizes), building society accounts, National Savings and investment accounts, Stocks, shares and unit trusts, life insurance and pensions, and of course digital assets.
You may even have a stack of bank notes sitting under the floorboards. How can you let people know about these after you have passed away, but not while you are alive?
At LegalWils.co.uk we have partnered with My LifeLocker, and created a unique Executor Handbook service that allows you to document your assets and important contacts. You can then either print the book, or grant access to the online version to your designated keyholders™ who can read your list of assets only at the appropriate time, and not before.
The printed document should then be stored with your important documents including your Will. As your assets change over time, you can update your LifeLocker. If anything were to happen to you, your Executor will be able to track down your accounts and administer your estate.
My LifeLocker also incorporates sections for your digital assets. You can include login credentials for online accounts and make your Executor aware of online assets like blog revenues or domain names. Your Executor will also have the tools to gracefully close down social accounts.
Step 5 -Print and sign your papers
This is a simple step, but when done incorrectly, it can undermine your entire estate plan. In summary, you must sign your Will in the presence of two adult witnesses who are not beneficiaries in your Will and have nothing to gain from the contents of the document. We included here the spouse of a beneficiary as somebody who is an inappropriate selection for a witness.
You then gather the three of you in a room together. You make a statement that you are signing your Will. Your witnesses then in turn sign the document, all in each other’s presence. We also recommend that each of you initial each page. It is common practice to cover each page with a blank sheet of paper as your witnesses are not checking the contents, they are simply witnessing the signing. There is no need for them to read the document.
Once signed and witnessed, you have created your legal Last Will and Testament.
Storing your documents
The final step is as critical as the signing process.
While I was writing this sentence we received an email that we see on a daily basis;
“We know our father had a last Will and testament, but we cannot find it. Can you help us? where would we be able to find his Will?”
You need to store your Will in a safe place, but it must be known and accessible to your Executor at the appropriate time. If your Will is not found, then you effectively die intestate “without a Will” and everything will be distributed according to the intestate laws.
We recommend that you store your Will and list of your assets together and let your Executor know where the documents are kept, or simply give them to your Executor (or alternate Executor) in a sealed envelope for their safe keeping.
Banks used to provide safe box services, but most are now phasing them out according to this BBC article. Although it is important to secure the Will safely, you cannot make it impossible for your Executor to find it, and access it.
Now you know how to write a Will – what next?
Back in the days when writing a Will was expensive and a time consuming process, people were under the impression that the preparation of their Will was a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking.
Fortunately, with the advent of convenient online services like the one at LegalWills.co.uk we recommend that you review your Will at least once a year, and additionally any time there is a change in your personal or financial circumstances. Also, if there is a change of circumstance to anybody named in your Will, you should consider a review and update if necessary.
If you undertake these five simple steps (which will actually take less time than it took to write this article) then you will finally have complete peace of mind.
He has over 19 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets and has contributed to articles in most leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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