10 Essential Things You Need to Know About Wills in the UK

Creating a will is a crucial step in ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your death. Despite its importance, many people delay or overlook making a will and it's often considered to be something you only need to do in later life. Here are 10 essential things you need to know about wills.

1. Why You Need a Will

A will ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Without a will, the law dictates how your estate is divided, which might not align with your preferences. In the absence of a will, the estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy, which may not reflect your wishes and can lead to potential disputes among your family members.

2. Who Can Make a Will

In the UK, anyone aged 18 or over and of sound mind can make a will. To be of sound mind, the will-maker (testator) must understand the nature of making a will, the extent of their estate, and the implications of including or excluding certain people from the will.

Creating a will is essential for many people, not just the wealthy or elderly. Here’s who should consider making a will:

  • Parents with Minor Children: Appoint guardians and ensure your children are financially supported.
  • Homeowners: Specify how your property should be distributed to avoid disputes.
  • Unmarried Couples: Protect your partner, as they have no automatic right to inherit without a will.
  • Blended Families: Ensure fair distribution among children from different relationships.
  • Business Owners: Plan for business succession and protect your family's financial interests.
  • Individuals with Significant Assets: Minimise inheritance tax and direct your wealth as you wish.
  • People with Specific Funeral Wishes: Specify your funeral preferences to reduce stress for your loved ones.
  • Charitable Individuals: Leave legacies to charities and potentially reduce inheritance tax.
  • People with Digital Assets: Manage online accounts, cryptocurrencies, and digital media effectively.
  • Anyone Wanting Control Over Their Estate: Ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes and avoid the default rules of intestacy.

3. What to Include in Your Will

A will should cover:

  • Distribution of Assets: Clearly state who should inherit your property, money, and possessions.
  • Guardianship: Appoint guardians for minor children.
  • Funeral Wishes: Specify your preferences for your funeral arrangements.
  • Appointment of Executors: Choose individuals responsible for carrying out your wishes. It is recommended to name more than one executor in case your first choice is unable to act.

4. Choosing Executors

Executors manage your estate according to your will. You can choose friends, family members, or a professional (such as a solicitor or an accountant). Executors should be trustworthy, reliable, and capable of managing the responsibilities involved. Consider appointing a professional executor if your estate is complex.

5. Witnessing the Will

For a will to be valid, it must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will in the presence of the testator. Witnesses should not be beneficiaries or married to beneficiaries, as this can invalidate their inheritance. It is crucial to follow these steps precisely to ensure the will is legally binding.

6. Storing Your Will

Store your will in a safe, secure place and inform your executors of its location. Options include keeping it with your estate planner, solicitor, at a bank, or using a will storage service. The Probate Service offers a will storage service for a small fee, ensuring your will is securely stored and can be easily retrieved when needed.

7. Updating Your Will

Regularly review and update your will, especially after significant life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or major financial changes. Failing to update your will after such events can lead to unintended consequences. For example, marriage can revoke a will, while divorce does not automatically remove an ex-spouse as a beneficiary.

8. Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Failing to Update Your Will: Keep your will current to reflect changes in your life and finances.
  • Not Appointing Alternate Executors: Designate backup executors in case your primary choice is unable to serve.
  • Using Vague Language: Be specific in your instructions to avoid ambiguities.
  • Overlooking Digital Assets: Include online accounts, cryptocurrencies, and digital content.
  • Not Considering Inheritance Tax Implications: Plan for tax liabilities to maximise the value passed to beneficiaries.
  • Assuming All Property Automatically Goes to Your Spouse: Cohabiting partners have no automatic inheritance rights without a will.

9. Inheritance Tax Considerations

The UK imposes inheritance tax (IHT) on estates above a certain threshold (£325,000 as of 2024). Effective estate planning can help minimise tax liabilities. For example, gifts made more than seven years before your death are generally exempt from IHT. Additionally, leaving at least 10% of your estate to charity can reduce the IHT rate from 40% to 36%

10. The Importance of Professional Help

While DIY wills are an option, using a professional solicitor ensures your will is legally sound and comprehensive. A solicitor can provide tailored advice, help you avoid common pitfalls, and ensure your wishes are clearly documented. They can also assist with complex family dynamics, such as providing for a dependent with special needs or setting up trusts.

Making a will is an essential part of planning for the future. It provides peace of mind knowing that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes and helps prevent potential disputes among your loved ones. By understanding these key aspects, you can create a will that effectively reflects your wishes and protects your legacy.

Need help with your will? Contact us today for a free consultation to ensure your estate is in good hands.

10 Essential Things You Need to Know About Wills in the UK

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Jonathan Owen and his team of financial planners have more than 15 years of experience. The team have helped generations of families prepare for their future through various services, including Will Writing, protecting their property through Will Trusts, setting out Lasting Power of Attorneys, Family Protection Trusts, and preparing for their final journey with Funeral Plans, taking the burden away from their loved ones.

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