Dying is not something most of us want to think about.
But planning ahead and writing a will could prove to be one of the best things you ever do for your loved ones.
Here, we provide the answers to all of your questions about wills, from whether you need one to how much you can expect to pay.
Do I need a will?
Probably, yes. You might think that wills are only necessary for rich people with lots of assets to pass on.
But if you own a property, or have children, for example, writing a will is a vital part of your financial planning.
Without one, you will die “intestate”, which can mean your affairs stay in limbo for years, causing extra pain and stress for your grieving loved ones.
People who need wills include:
If you own a property, you need to decide who gets it in the event of your death.
Don't expect anything to go to your partner if you are unmarried and you don't make a will (unless you own a property as “joint tenants”, in which case your half will go to your partner).
Your husband, wife or civil partner automatically becomes your heir when you get married or enter into a civil partnership. So if you want any of your things to go to someone else, you’ll need a will to prove it.
Getting married invalidates any previous will you have made. But you’ll also need a new will if you get divorced.
It’s vital to protect the interests of your children by spelling out clearly what of yours they should get and when – as well as who you want to look after them if you die.
How do I make a will?
Most people write a will with the help of a solicitor. The process costs between £100 and £200 for a single person’s will and between £150 and £300 for a will for a couple.
The benefits of using a solicitor include that you are protected if anything goes wrong and your will should be accurate and safely stored.
If you’re thinking of protecting your loved ones by writing a will, the good news is that November is Will Aid month.
During the month of November, you can therefore apply for a solicitor to write you a will for free.
All you have to do is make a charitable donation of around £95 for a single will or £150 for a couple’s will, to be split between charities such as ActionAid, Age UK, British Red Cross and NSPCC.
Visit www.willaid.org.uk or phone 0300 0309 558 to find your nearest participating solicitor.
Are there any other cheaper ways to make a will?
If you need to make a will outside Will Aid month, one way to cut the cost is to use an online will-writing service.
But beware: there is currently no regulation to ensure such will writers do a good job.
If you choose this approach, it may therefore be sensible to choose one that is a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW).
Services of this kind are only really suitable if your affairs are relatively simple.
The same is true of the free will services offered by some insurers if you take out legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, as well as those offered by trade unions and employers.
What can be included in a will?
Wills are not just for the division of assets.
If, for example, you have children or step-children under the age of 18, your will should also include arrangements for them in the event of your death.
It can also specify who gets any pets, as well as what you want your funeral to be like.
Other details you can specify in your will include who will execute your wishes.
This could be a trusted friend or relative, a bank or your solicitor (for a fee).
What will happen if I don’t have a will?
As explained above, writing a will allows you to decide how a number of things are dealt with should you die – as well as who you want to benefit from your estate.
Die without one, however, and your money, property and possessions will be split among your next of kin according to strict rules that could well contradict your wishes.
Dying intestate can also lead to many years of legal wrangling for those left behind.
In extreme cases, your loved ones may even have to leave the family home because the money they should be getting is tied up and cannot be used to pay the bills.
Are there any other advantages to having a will?
One added benefit of writing a will is that it can be used to minimise the inheritance tax owed by your heirs.
Those who stand to inherit will generally have to pay 40% inheritance tax on anything – including property – over the £325,000 threshold.
However, there are a number of steps you can take when writing a will to reduce this percentage.
For example, you could cut it to 36% of the total (over and above £325,000), by leaving 10% of your estate to charity.
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