What is a will?
Your Last Will and Testament is a legal document dictating how you wish your estate to be distributed after your death.
Do I need one?
If you do not have a Will your estate will be distributed according to the Rules of Intestacy, the Rules of Intestacy were put in place to decide who is entitled to inherit your estate. They will not always reflect who you would want to inherit therefore to ensure the right people are benefiting from your estate you must write a Will.
A Will enables you to ensure the security of your loved ones, if you have children under the age of 18 this is especially important when designating who will care for them when you’re gone.
Having a Will also allows your assets to be handled more easily and in some cases can prevent your estate being subject to probate. As many institutions have a lower threshold for what they will release without probate when there is no Will.
What do they include?
As standard a Will sets out;
- Whether you wish to be buried or cremated
- Who you want to administer your estate, known as your executor
- Who you wish to inherit your estate, known as your beneficiaries
However your Will can go into much greater detail and should be written to suit your individual circumstances. Things you may want to include in your Will;
- Who will be the guardian/guardians of your children
- Specific bequests to friends, family, charities ect
- Whether you wish for a Trust to be set up
- Who will be the trustees and who will be the beneficiaries
- Specific details of how you want your assets to be handled
- Instructions for your funeral
You Will can include any details or instructions you believe will be helpful to your executor after your death.
How to make it valid?
It is important for a Will to be made correctly for it to be considered valid, having an invalid Will is as useful as not having one at all as it means your estate will be distributed according to the Rules of Intestacy. For a Will to be considered valid it you must;
- Be 18 or over
- Be of sound mind
- Make it voluntary
- Make it in writing
- Have it signed by two witnesses
- Sign it yourself in the presence of 2 witnesses
Who can write a Will?
Anyone can write a Will, however if you are going to write your Will by yourself it is important that you do your research and write your Will correctly as homemade Wills have a higher chance of being contested or considered invalid. There a lot of Will writing guides and kits available which provide useful information but you should bare in mind unless you have a very simple estate these guides may not be very helpful. If you have a more complicated estate it is highly recommended that you use a professional.
When looking for a professional Will writer you should consider what qualifications they have to write your Will. You do not need to be a solicitor to write a Will, there are many independent Will writers and Will writing companies that are not qualified, therefore when using a Will writer you should look for someone who is a member of the Institute of Professional Will Writers (IPW).
It is not always necessary to use a solicitor to write your Will, however their knowledge and experience could benefit your estate when the time comes. A solicitor will be able to advise on complex situations and will reduce the risk of any errors that could cause problems after your death. One thing to be careful of is having a solicitor write themselves in as an executor of your Will which means they will be responsible for the estate administration. This can sometimes be very expensive and may also not reflect the deceased’s wishes. It is recommended to use friends or family as your executors so they have freedom to administer your estate in a way that best protects everyone’s interest.
Can I make changes to my Will?
Once you have written your Will you should not alter the original document, this will render it invalid. If you want to make one or two simple amendments to your Will you can write a codicil. A codicil must be written under the same requirements as a Will to ensure it is valid.
If you wish to make a lot of changes to your Will or have already added codicils to a previous Will, it risks causing confusing for the executors during the estate administration. Rather than having several codicils it would be better to have a completely new Will written to avoid ambiguity and contradictions.
Can I make changes to a Will after death?
It is possible to change certain wishes in a Will once the person has passed away, you would do this using a deed of variation. A deed of Variation will vary the wishes in the Will, there are many reasons you may want to do this, for example to include someone that was left out of the Will or if the Will does not distribute the estate in the most tax effective method.
However in order to vary the Will you must have the agreement of all the beneficiaries who will be negatively affected by the change.
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