11 Jan 2021
Wills & Probate
No-one likes to think about what will happen after their days but making a Will means that you can be prepared for whatever the future holds, making the process of sorting out your estate much easier for those you leave behind and importantly, being able to leave your estate to whoever you wish.
Many people imagine that making a Will is a long, complicated and expensive process but it is actually a fairly simple process and costs less than you’d think. It is worth instructing a solicitor so that you can ensure your Will is valid as there are various legal formalities which need to be followed correctly, providing you with the reassurance that your wishes will be carried out.
In your Will, you can outline who should inherit your assets after you die, name a guardian for your children, set up trusts to provide for your family financially and even leave instructions for what you’d like to happen at your funeral.
One of the most important aspects is deciding how your assets will be distributed among your family, friends or charities so before you make a Will, it will be important to work out which assets you own and who you’d like to benefit from your estate.
You’ll need to name your executors – the people who are authorised to deal with your estate and to divide up your assets according to your instructions.
You can specify which person or organisation should receive which asset, known as specific legacies or bequests. Specific legacies can include the obvious, such as a property or family heirlooms, but could also be more abstract, such as a sentimental keepsake or the contents of a bank account. You can also leave sums of money as well, known as pecuniary or cash legacies.
It’s important to remember that your residual legacy is all that remains after any legacies have been accounted for, but also after any debts have been settled, including your inheritance tax bill.
Your home is usually the largest asset you’ll leave behind but whether or not it can be passed on in your Will depends on how you own it. A property can be held solely or joint with another person. There are two types of joint ownership and each has separate rules as to how it is dealt with in a Will.
If you own any equity in your home, you can name a new owner in your Will (subject to the rules of joint ownership) and the title will pass to that person when you die. You may name more than one new owner.
If there is an outstanding mortgage on your property, your heirs will need to make new arrangements with the mortgage lender to either repay the loan or re-mortgage the home unless they wish to sell it.
If you have children under 18, one of the most important decisions to make is who will become their guardian if both parents die. If you don’t set this out in your Will, the family courts will be left to decide who should raise your children. Within your Will you can also specify who will hold the funds from your estate to look after your children. This is usually provided for with trusts.
Aside from your children, consider any other dependents you might have, such as elderly parents or disabled adults living in your home – and make financial arrangements for their care as well.
Many people treat their pets like members of their family so will be concerned about how they will be looked after when they pass away. You can leave the care of your pets to a specific person, but it’s obviously worth checking with them beforehand that they’ll be willing to take on the responsibility. You may also wish to consider leaving a sum of money for the new owner to put towards the care of the animal.
Many people choose to leave some of their estate to charity after their days. Aside from supporting a cause you believe in, there can also be tax advantages to giving your money away as if you leave more than 10% of your estate to a UK-registered charity, the inheritance tax rate on your remaining estate will fall from 40% to 36%.
Nowadays, your estate will probably not just include physical and financial assets, such as property and money in the bank. Digital assets such as photographs, music and films that you’ve bought online might also form part of your possessions and you may wish to specify who owns these after your days. If you have social media accounts, you can also request specific people to delete or take these over on your behalf.
Any wishes will be subject to the terms of the online provider and therefore, to make sure there are no additional complications, it may be best to check with them before leaving any digital assets to a person.
People often use their Will to specify their wishes for their funeral and whether they want to be buried or cremated, where their remains should be buried or scattered as well as confirming their views on organ donation. These instructions aren’t legally binding as your executors have decision-making power over your funeral and remains, but last wishes are usually followed so this can spare your loved ones from having to make some difficult decisions at what is already a distressing time.
That said, keep in mind that your Will might not be read until your funeral plans are already in place so it may be wise to share your wishes with a trusted loved one or the executor beforehand.
There is lots to consider but if you don’t take the time to record your wishes in a Will, you will leave the State to decide what happens to your estate. If you would like to talk to one of our friendly, sympathetic team at Harding Evans about making a Will, we have years of experience and promise to treat you with empathy and respect.