Most people know what a Will is. They also know that at some point in their lives they will need to make one, but many put it off in the belief that it is something they can deal with later on in life. However, there are several points or stages during most peoples’ lives when a Will should seriously be considered. Below we provide a list of these life-stages and explain why getting a Will is so important.
Getting married or entering a civil partnership:
Perhaps the last thing on most newly-weds’ minds is getting a Will, but what many people are unaware of is the fact that when you get married, any Will you had before you got married will usually become invalid. This means if you died after your marriage or civil partnership before making a new Will, you would be deemed to have died ‘intestate’. Dying intestate means the State decides how your estate (belongings, property and money) is distributed, regardless of your or your spouse’s wishes. Getting a ‘Will for a married person/civil partner’ or a ‘mirror Will’ is easy to do and lets you and your spouse specify exactly how you want your assets to be distributed amongst your family.
Unlike married couples or civil partners, unmarried couples are not automatically entitled to inherit one anothers’ estates should one partner die without a Will. This applies even if the couple have been living with each other for years and even have children together. It is therefore essential that unmarried couples in this situation make a Will to specify exactly what they would like their partner to inherit should they die. Without a Will in place, the deceased’s partner would not be entitled to anything and his or her estate would be distributed by the State to other family members. It is advisable for each partner to make a ‘Will for an unmarried person‘ in order to ensure each partner is protected should one die before the other.
Perhaps the most important reason to make a Will when you have a child is that it allows you to nominate someone you know and trust to look after your child or children should you and your partner die. Known as a ‘guardian’, this person will be legally responsible for taking care of your children; without a legal guardian, it will be down to the courts and the State to decide who and how your children are cared for. And if you have children from a previous relationship, making a Will lets you specify exactly what you would like each one of your children to inherit. Depending on the marital status of the parents, the following types of Will are suitable for parents: ‘Will for married person or civil partner’, ‘mirror Will’, ‘discretionary trust Will’ or a ‘Will for an unmarried person’.
Buying a property:
For most people, their house represents the highest value item in their estate and what happens to it when they die needs to careful consideration. Buying a property will also impact your Inheritance Tax status by bringing the value of your estate closer to or may be exceeding the nil-rate threshold (currently £325,000). The most important factor in determining what happens to house when you die is how it is owned. The options are: sole tenant, joint tenants or tenants in common. If the house is owned as a joint tenancy, it will automatically pass to the surviving tenant if the other dies. However, in the case of sole tenants and tenants in common, a Will should be used to specify exactly what should happen to the property when the owner or owners die.
Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership:
If you made a Will while you were married, it is likely that this leaves your estate to your spouse should you die before him or her. You might also have named your spouse as an executor – the person responsible for ensuring the wishes in your Will are carried out. If this is the case and you died after your divorce without having changed your Will to reflect your changed circumstances, you may be considered to have died intestate and your assets will be distributed by the State. Having an updated or new Will place after you divorce is therefore vital to ensure your estate is distributed exactly how you wish it to be. Making a ‘Will for an unmarried person’ will help to avoid confusion and disputes within your family.
Retirement is a good point at which to take stock and review your Will. It is likely that since you first made your Will, your financial situation will have changed, as will the lives of your family members. Take time to think about how you might want to amend your Will to make it more tax efficient, or perhaps consider a ‘discretionary trust Will’ if you want to protect against assets being used by a local authority to cover the cost of residential nursing care for your spouse. This type of Will can also be used to ensure that children from a previous relationship are provided for. Minor amends to your Will can be made using a document known as a ‘codicil’ or for more substantial changes, making a completely new Will is advisable.
As we have seen, there are many important reasons to make a Will and to ensure it is regularly updated to reflect any changes in your circumstances. Putting it off can end up causing unnecessary upset and hardship to the family members left behind.
So what’s stopping you?
Take a look at our Wills and Probate Law Centre to read more about your options. You find out how easy it is to create a Will and to get the peace of mind that comes from knowing your family’s interest will be protected when you die.