10 things to know before making your first will

Death and taxes are the only two certainties in life, so the saying goes.

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And even if YOU don’t have to worry about taxes after you’re gone, your loved ones will – especially if you don’t write a will. In fact, dying without a will could leave them with no cash at all in the months following your death.

So if you’ve never written a will before here’s 10 things to know first:

1. Most people need a will – and that probably means YOU

Writing a will is not just for the ‘rich’. If you have any assets such as a property (mortgaged or not) and loved ones, draw one up sooner rather than later.

Dying without a will means dying “intestate”, which can mean your affairs stay in limbo for years. Your family might even have to move because the money is all tied up and can’t be used to pay the rent or mortgage.

Did you know? When Jimi Hendrix died without leaving a will in 1970, the battle for his estate went on for more than 30 years!

2. Getting married? You’ll need a new will

If you get married or enter into a registered civil partnership, it will invalidate any previous will you have made.

Your new husband, wife or civil partner will automatically become your heir, so if you want any of your things to go to someone else, you’ll need a new will to prove it.
You’ll also need a new will if you get divorced.

Did you know? William Shakespeare’s will raised some eyebrows by in 1616 by stating that his wife Anne should receive the “second best bed”.

3. Unmarried? Your partner won’t get anything unless you write a will

Don't expect anything to go to your partner if you are unmarried and you don't make a will.  The only exception is if the two of you own a property as “joint tenants”, in which case your half will go to your partner. (This is not the case where property is owned as “tenants in common”.)

4. A will is the only way to ensure your estate is split as you wish

Writing a will allows you to choose the people you want to benefit from your estate after you have gone. Die without one, and your money, property and possessions will be split among your next of kin according to strict rules that may well contradict your wishes.

Did you know? When Princess Diana did in 1997, her will included a bequest of £50,000 to her former butler Paul Burrell.

5. You can state who looks after your children in your will

If you have children or step children under 18, you will need to make a will so that arrangements for them can be made if either one or both parents die. You can also specify who gets any pets.

BEWARE: While there are lots of cut-price will-writing services around, there is currently no regulation to ensure will writers do a good job

6. You can dictate your funeral in your will

If you know what you want your funeral to be like, you can detail it so that your family doesn't have to make the decisions.

Did you know? Charles Dickens’ will said mourners at his funeral in 1870 should “wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hatband, or other such revolting absurdity”.

7. Your will also decides who divides up your estate

In your will, you name your executors, or the people you want to look after the financial process, as well as those who stand to inherit. This could be a trusted friend or relative or a bank or a solicitor (for a fee).

8. A will can help cut the inheritance tax bill on your estate

Your heirs will generally have to pay 40% inheritance tax on anything you leave – including property – over the £325,000 threshold. But it may be possible to reduce the amount of tax payable by planning ahead and writing a will.

9. You can't force people to take what you leave them

Whether you leave a loved one a painting or a property, the person concerned can refuse to accept it should they wish. Unwanted bequests are returned to the estate and dealt with under the residuary clause in your will.

Did you know? Napoleon Bonaparte’s last wish was that his head be shaved and the hair divided up amongst his friends.

10. You can get a free will by donating to charity

November is Will Aid month. And that means you can apply for a solicitor to write you a will for free – in return for a charitable donation of around £95 for a single will or £150 for a couple’s will.

Your donation will be split between charities such as ActionAid, Age UK, British Red Cross and NSPCC.
Just visit the Will Aid website or phone 0300 0300 013 to find your nearest participating solicitor.

Other ways to get a free will…

These services are only usually suitable for relatively simple wills:

*Take out legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, and you might find that it includes a will service.

*You might be able to get a free will through your trade union or your employer.

BUT BEWARE:

While there are lots of cut-price will-writing services around, there is currently no regulation to ensure will writers do a good job.

One way to protect yourself is to choose a members of the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW).

Chief Executive of the IPW, Sally Brown said: “All our members follow the Code of Practice and because of that the general public can be confident in the services offered by IPW members in respect of will writing.”

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