Most people understand the importance of organising their affairs in the event of their death, especially if they have dependents or other financial commitments. But despite this, according to research by Royal London, an estimated 60% of UK parents are yet to make a will, or the one they have is out of date.

If you keep putting off writing a will until ‘tomorrow’, or are finding it difficult to come to terms with your own mortality, you’re certainly not alone. But if you’re serious about shoring up a financial future for you and your loved ones, a will is a first and vital step in shielding them from unnecessary additional stress and worry, should the worst happen.

A valid will means your wishes are known and respected

Why do I need a will?

A will gives you and your family peace of mind that things will be taken care of if you’re no longer around. It’s far better to think about it now with a clear head than after you fall ill, or worse still, were to die suddenly having made no arrangements.

You should also review your will regularly and update it whenever there is a change in your or your family’s circumstances. Having a valid will means your wishes are known and respected, so you can rest assured that everyone you care about is included in your estate planning.

Dying without a valid will in place

If you were to die without a valid will (known as ‘intestate’), or one that hasn’t been updated for a while, it could create serious problems for those left behind at an already sad and difficult time. Below are some of the main problems that could arise.

1. Your spouse or civil partner will not automatically inherit your entire estate

If you don’t have a will in place, your money is subject to a set hierarchy when distributing your assets after your death. First in line would be your spouse – if your estate is worth up to £270,000, then your spouse or civil partner would inherit the total amount.

However, if your estate is worth more than £270,000, your spouse would only inherit the first £270,000. The rest would be divided, with half going to them and the other half divided between your children, if you have any.

And, if you’re not married or in a civil partnership, regardless of whether you are engaged or how long you’ve been together, your other half would not be considered your legal partner. That means they would not automatically inherit from you unless you named them in a will.

2. Probate is likely to be a lot more expensive and take longer

Probate is the legal process that kicks in when a person dies. It identifies the correct individual, or group of people, with the legal authority to deal with the distribution of your estate, which may include property, money and other possessions.

Probate is required whether or not there is a will. But if you do have one, it will name the Executors (people with authority to sort out the estate of the person who’s died), making it a simpler process.

Without a will, no one will have the legal authority to deal with the estate, so the next of kin must apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration instead. This can take time and cost more money – and until the Grant is issued, the deceased’s assets will remain frozen.

Without a will, any children from your previous marriages will be cut out completely

3. When you marry, your old will is no longer valid

Getting married can profoundly affect an existing will, so it’s critical to make a new one.

If you already have a will, it will automatically become invalid as soon as your marriage occurs. If you die before you update or make a new will, you will be regarded as having died ‘intestate’.

Intestacy (dying without a will) will likely cost 2-4% of your estate in expensive legal fees because it will be far more complicated and take longer to resolve.

4. Children from a previous marriage won’t automatically inherit

If you remarry and fail to make a will, your entire estate will be left to your current spouse or civil partner and any children you have together. Any children from your previous marriages will be cut out completely.

This is called sideways disinheritance – and sadly, it’s very common but easily remedied by stating your wishes clearly in your will.

5. You can't choose your children's guardian

A will isn’t just about distributing your wealth, it allows you to name the people you want to appoint as your children’s guardians. If you don’t, the decision will be left to the family courts.

If there's no will, an unmarried partner won't automatically inherit and could lose their home

6. You won’t be able to specify how your children spend any money you leave to them

A will allows you to put plans in place to ensure your children are provided for in the future. This could include money towards their education, a deposit towards a house or simply a regular allowance to pay for food, clothing and other essentials.

To do this, you may wish to set up a trust – this will give you an element of control over when your children receive the money and what they can spend it on.

7. Your stepchildren may be left out completely

The law states that only your spouse or blood relatives can automatically inherit if there is no will. If you want to include any stepchildren, foster children or other descendants not connected by blood or marriage, you need to leave instructions in a will.

8. If you’re unmarried, your partner won’t be entitled to anything

Without a will, any unmarried partners will not inherit your savings, pension, property, or other possessions, no matter how long you’ve been together. This could mean that an unmarried partner and any stepchildren could lose their home.

A well-prepared will can help to alleviate stress and family disagreements

9. Lack of a will can create family disputes

If you’re not clear about how you want your estate divided up, it can lead to misunderstandings and arguments amongst your family after you’ve gone. A well-prepared will ensures your wishes are completely clear, and you can explain the reasoning behind your decisions to help alleviate any stress or upset.

10. A will that hasn’t been witnessed is invalid

Your will must be signed and witnessed according to the law. For this reason, you should consult a solicitor to draw up a will for you or at least check that it’s valid and relevant to the country’s laws.

For instance, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you’ll need to be 18 years or over and two witnesses are required. Whereas in Scotland, you can draft a will from age 12, and only one witness is required.

I don’t have a valid will – what should I do next?

Most importantly, don’t leave it too late. Make arrangements to write a will if you don’t have one, or update it if you already do, and have it validated by a solicitor.

An Amber River financial planner can assist you with will planning, and go a step further to help you decide how to distribute your wealth, set up any trusts and offer advice to mitigate against Inheritance Tax (IHT).

Get in touch

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