If you are one of the 64% of Britons that have never got around to the job – or you have an existing will which needs updating – there has never been a better time to take action.
Every November, Will Aid – a campaign partnership run by nine registered charities – gives UK adults the opportunity to have a basic will drawn up by a solicitor in return for a voluntary donation. The benefits of this are two-fold.
Firstly, it is a lot cheaper than going direct to a solicitor. The suggested minimum donation is £85 for a basic will, £125 for a pair of basic mirror wills and £40 for a codicil (a document that amends an existing will).
Secondly, rather than going into the solicitor’s pocket, your payment is spread across nine separate charities, which include Christian Aid, Age UK and The British Red Cross.
More than 1,300 participating solicitors in the country make this possible by giving up their time free-of-charge. You can also opt to leave a legacy (although you don’t have to) in which case you can choose any charity you want.
The importance of writing a will
As well as raising money for good causes, the annual Will Aid campaign also increases awareness of the importance of writing a will. If you die without a will, you die ‘intestate’ which means the laws of intestacy will determine who inherits what.
Not only is this likely to cause additional distress to any loved ones you leave behind, but the outcome might not be what you expected.
Although the first person entitled to your estate is your spouse or civil partner, they will not necessarily inherit all of it. The amount depends on how much the estate is worth and which blood relatives are surviving.
Worse still, if you die intestate and without family, your entire worldly goods will find their way into the Treasury’s coffers.
Making a will means not only that you can give what you want to who you want, but also that you will also be able to distribute your assets in a way that can minimise any Inheritance Tax (IHT) charge, or perhaps even eliminate it altogether.
Currently, IHT is payable at a rate of 40% on all estates worth more than £325,000.Money matters aside, there are even more important reasons for writing a will.
For example, if you are a parent of young children you will have no control over who looks after them should anything happen to you, whereas if you make a will, you can appoint guardians of your choice who will look after them until they reach the age of 18.
But despite this, the most recent figures from Will Aid show that around, in 2009, around 60 per cent of deaths in the UK were intestate because a will was either never written or couldn’t be found.
How do I write a will?
The first port of call is to make an appointment with a participating Will Aid solicitor in your local area.
You can do this by visiting Willaid.org.uk or calling 0300 0300 013. However, the appointment must be during November if you want to benefit from the reduced price.
If you are unable to get an appointment this month, make sure you still strike while the iron’s hot.
If you don’t already have a trusted solicitor, or one that comes recommended, you can source a professional will-writer in your postcode area via industry body, The Institute of Professional Willwriters (ipw.org.uk).
Not every member is a solicitor but the will-writers must pass specific exams and receive training every 12 months.
It is perfectly legal – and of course, a lot cheaper – to draw up your own will with a DIY will-writing kit.
There are plenty of these available online or from high street stationers. To write your own will, you will need the signature of two witnesses, neither of whom can be beneficiaries.
You will also need to assign an executor of the will who will be responsible for distributing your assets after your death. For obvious reasons, it’s a good idea to assign someone who is both trustworthy and younger than you.
However, unless you know what you are doing, writing your own will can be a risky business. Legal problems, which you will not be around to sort out, can arise from anything from miscalculations, mis-interpretations and even spelling mistakes.
And with modern families becoming more complex in terms of second marriages and/or children from past relationships, wills are also less straightforward than they used to be.
According to Will Aid, solicitors make more money sorting out badly written or invalid wills than they do from writing them, which means that using a qualified professional is usually a good idea.
Where there’s a will there’s a way
The good news is that, according to the results of this year’s Will Aid survey, the number of Britons in possession of a valid and up-to-date will is on the up.
Figures currently stand at 46.2%, which is a significant improvement on the 40.1% recorded in 2010.
Shirley Marsland, Will Aid campaign manager, said: “We welcome this overall increase, which also shows a rise in the percentage of younger people with a will. “However, there is still a long way to go.
It is only in the over-55 age group that the solid majority say they have a will, while only a third (32%) of parents with dependent children have got around to the job.”
So if you’ve yet to write your will – don’t delay, as it will make life much easier for your loved ones at what will already be an upsetting time.
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