Recent research by Royal London revealed that more than half of UK adults need to make a will, with more than five million admitting they did not know how to.
Separate research from Unbiased has found that those aged 55 and over are three times more likely to have a will than those aged 18 – 34. However, more than a third (37%) of over-55s also don’t have a will.
Ensuring you have a valid will in place is vital for lots of reasons. Here are five of the most important.
1. You can specify who your children’s guardian should be
Writing a will isn’t just about deciding how to divide your estate. It also allows you to choose who should look after your dependents. Designating guardians in your will ensures that your minor children will be taken care of in the event that both their parents pass away.
You should ideally make a will (or update an existing will) as soon as your child is born. While you can choose to have more than one guardian, you should make sure that the individuals you choose will agree on what is best for your child. For example, you may appoint a guardian with whom the child will live, and another to manage their assets.
Always speak to the person you wish to nominate first to ensure they are comfortable with taking on this responsibility. And, experts usually advise that you name an alternate guardian in your will in case the person you appoint cannot fulfil this role.
If you don’t make a will, the decision regarding where your child should live when you die could be left to the family courts. The court may then choose a person you wouldn’t agree with.
If you don’t have children, your will also lets you designate who should look after any pets you have. You can choose someone to look after your cat, dog or other pet and put some money aside to feed them and look after their health.
2. It will protect your unmarried partner and any non-blood dependents
Unmarried cohabiting couples have no automatic right of inheritance if their partner dies without a will. This is because unmarried partners do not benefit under the current intestacy rules, no matter how long you have been together.
If your cohabiting partner were to die, you may be able to claim from their estate through the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘the 1975 Act’). However, any successful claim is only likely to result in ‘reasonable financial provision’ and so may not be a satisfactory outcome.
Similarly, you may have stepchildren, foster children or other non-blood relatives who are an important part of your life. As the law states that only spouses or blood relatives can automatically inherit if there is no will, you’ll need to make a will if you want to provide for them on your death.
3. It helps to avoid family disputes
Inheritance disputes are on the rise in the UK. This is Money reports that, in 2018, there was a 6% increase in people contesting a grant of probate – an important step in taking control of a deceased person’s estate.
And, a recent study by Direct Line Life Insurance revealed that more than 24% of Brits would seek to dispute the wishes of a family member or friend if they disagreed with the division of their estate.
It’s clear that even with a will in place, families will often still challenge your wishes. So, having no will hugely increase the chances of individuals disputing the division of assets in the event of your death.
Why are more people querying the wishes of a loved one? One reason is that increasing property prices have resulted in inheritances being larger than before, and it has made relatively modest estates worth fighting for.
Dan Winter, Partner at law firm Nockolds, says: “An estate needs to be of value to be worth contesting, as otherwise, the costs involved in pursuing a case can be disproportionate. In many parts of the country pretty much any estate with a house in will be of significant value and seen by potential claimants as worth disputing.”
Another reason for the rise in inheritance disputes is linked to the increased complexity of modern family structures. “People are more likely to marry multiple times, or cohabit outside of marriage or a civil partnership, and if there are children or stepchildren involved, the likelihood of someone feeling hard done by is even greater than before,” Dan adds.
While no will is completely immune to a challenge, having your will professionally drafted rather than making a ‘homemade’ will can help to make it watertight. And, adding a ‘letter of wishes’ which explains why your will has been drafted in the way it has can provide important evidence in the event of a dispute.
4. It speeds up the probate process
Writing a will can help you to avoid delays in the division of your assets after you die.
Having a will speeds up the probate process as it tells the court how you’d like your estate divided. The probate courts serve the purpose of ‘administering your estate’ and, when you die intestate (without a will), the court will decide how to divide your estate without your input, which can cause long, unnecessary delays.
5. You can decide what happens to you
As well as deciding what happens to your estate and your assets, your will can allow you to decide what happens to you.
You can specify what happens to your body once you die. Do you want to be buried and, if so, where? Or, do you want to be cremated and, if so, where would you like your ashes to be scattered?
Your will can also specify what type of funeral you want to have, such as the music you would like to be played.
Finally, your will can also detail whether you would like your organs donated when you die, or if you would like your body to be donated for medical research.