If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the unexpected can happen at any time and turn our lives upside down.
On a much smaller scale, the same is true for any family because, while most of us can expect to live into old age, illness or accident can result in the loss of a loved one much sooner than anyone expected. We all know this, and yet more than 50% of UK adults don’t prepare for the possibility by making a will.
What’s Preventing People from Making a Will?
There are lots of potential reasons that so many people do not have a will. Few people talk about death or consider the impact of their death on our nearest and dearest. Many (wrongly) assume that their estate will be shared amongst those closest to them if there is no will. Some assume that they are not ‘rich’ enough to need a will. Ultimately, people lead busy lives so planning ahead for the unlikely event that their life might be cut short is not a priority, even if they know it should be and want to make sure their family is provided for.
What Happens if there is no Will?
In most cases, a person’s estate needs to be administered through probate to enable their beneficiaries to inherit. Where there is no will, this can take much longer and can result in those closest to the deceased missing out. This is because, without a will, money and property is inherited according to intestacy rules, which means that a spouse or civil partner will almost certainly inherit everything, potentially leaving children, parents and siblings of the deceased empty-handed,
In the modern world of blended families, leaving your family at the mercy of intestacy laws by failing to make a will could have a devasting effect on those closest to you. A co-habiting partner does not have the same status under the law as a spouse or civil partner, so could find themselves with nothing, regardless of how long the relationship has lasted or how many children it has produced. Meanwhile, a parent who has re-married and has not provided for their children in a will, effectively disinherits them through this oversight.
Moreover, the right to administer the estate should someone die without a will is governed by the same intestacy hierarchy. The spouse or civil partner is prioritised above adult children and then parents, and a co-habiting partner is given no priority to apply to handle probate at all.
The complexity of who inherits what if there is no will is only half the story. Added to the distress at finding they are not provided for, many bereaved families also have the anguish of losing a family home, the difficulties of a lack of funds to pay for the funeral and disputes with relatives to deal with. And all at a time when they are grieving and vulnerable.
The tragedy is that most people don’t discover how exposed their family is to missing out on an inheritance or the stress of a prolonged probate until it happens to them. And yet this situation can so easily be avoided.
How to Protect Your Family by Making a Will
Whether you’re a millionaire or you’re living from payday to payday, making a will is the only way to ensure that your money and possessions go to the people you choose in the event of your death. You can make a will as an individual or have a mirror will drawn up with a partner, and your will should be updated each time there is a change in your circumstances, such as the birth of a child or the loss of a parent, for example.
It’s important to note that simply writing your wishes down on a piece of paper, even if you’re using a template, is not enough to make a will legally binding. To ensure your will is legal, it must be witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries in the presence of a solicitor. This is usually done at a solicitor’s office but, thanks to social distancing measures in place due to the pandemic, new rules allow wills to be witnessed via video link.
Although there is a cost involved in having a legally-binding will drawn up, the price is less than most people think and the value to your loved ones could be immeasurable. We cannot predict the future, but we can take steps to protect those we love most by making a will.