13 Jan 2022

Wills & Probate

This New Year, make writing your Will your top resolution

At this time of year, we are all full of good intentions about getting through those important tasks that we just never seem to get to. Leaving instructions for what should happen to your dependants, possessions and finances after your death is arguably one of the most important things that we should get in order and yet only around a third of UK adults have actually made a Will. As Hannah Thomas, the newest addition to our Wills & Probate team, explains, many people hesitate because they do not know what to cover.

We all know it’s not pleasant to think about what will happen after your days but it is so important that we are all prepared for whatever the future holds. Having a Will in place makes the process of sorting out your estate so much easier for those you leave behind and allows you to leave your estate to whoever you wish.

It’s a common misconception that making a Will is a long, complicated and expensive process but in reality, it is fairly simple and costs less than you’d think. To ensure your Will is valid, it’s always worth instructing a solicitor as there are various legal formalities which need to be followed correctly, so that you have the reassurance that your wishes will be carried out.

So what needs to be included?

In your Will, you can state who should inherit your assets after you die, who should take on responsibility for your children and set up trusts to provide for your family financially. You can even leave instructions for what you’d like to happen at your funeral.

One of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is how your assets will be distributed among your family, friends or charities. So, before you meet with your solicitor, make sure you think through all the assets you own and decide who you’d like to benefit from your estate.

You can leave specific legacies or bequests, where you specify which person or organisation should receive which asset. These can range from items such as a property or family heirlooms to a sentimental keepsake or the contents of a bank account. You can also leave sums of money, known as pecuniary or cash legacies. You’ll also need to agree the people who are authorised to deal with your estate and to divide up your assets according to your instructions. These are your executors.

Remember that your residual legacy is everything that remains after any legacies have been accounted for, but also after any debts have been settled, including your inheritance tax bill.

Property

In most cases, your home is the largest asset you’ll leave behind but whether or not it can be passed on in your Will depends on whether you own it 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 your property has an outstanding mortgage on it, your heirs will need to make new arrangements with the lender to either repay the loan or re-mortgage the home, unless they wish to sell it.

Who will look after your children?

Clearly, if you have children who are under 18, one of the most important and difficult decisions to make is who will become their guardian if both parents die. This is often the reason why people put off making a Will as they find it difficult to think about this but if you don’t set this out in your Will, it will be left to the family courts to decide who should raise your children.

You can also specify who will hold the funds from your estate to look after your children. This is usually provided for with trusts. Also consider any other dependents you might have, such as elderly parents or disabled adults living in your home – and make sure financial arrangements are made for their care too.

Caring for your pets

As a nation of animal lovers, many of us treat our pets just like members of their family so will naturally be concerned about how they would be looked after if we were to pass away. You can leave the care of your pets to a specific person, but will obviously need to check with them that they’ll be willing to take on the responsibility. It may also be worth leaving a sum of money for them to put towards the care of the animal.

Charitable donations

It is very common for people to leave some of their estate to charity when they die. As well as allowing you to support a cause that is close to your heart, there can also be tax advantages 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%.

Digital assets and online accounts

These days, it’s likely that your estate will not be confined to physical and financial assets, such as property and money in the bank. Any digital assets such as photographs, music and films that you’ve bought online will 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 is best to check with the person before leaving any digital assets to them.

Instructions for your funeral

You can use your Will to specify your wishes for your funeral, whether you want to be buried or cremated and where your remains should be buried or scattered. It’s also an opportunity to confirm your views on organ donation. These instructions aren’t legally binding as ultimately, your executors have decision-making power over your funeral and remains, but last wishes are usually followed so outlining these in your Will can often spare your loved ones from having to make some difficult decisions at what is already a distressing time.

Bear in mind, however, that your Will might not be read until your funeral plans are already in place so it is always wise to share your wishes with a trusted loved one or the executor beforehand.

As you can see, there is lots to consider but if you don’t 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 will always treat you with empathy and respect. Visit our website at www.hardingevans.com, email hello@hevans.com or call 01633 244233 or 029 2267 6818.

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