Updated 13 March 2018
Make sure your family is protected and not left with a legal battle after you have gone. Make sure your will is up to date.
Research from unbiased.co.uk and Certainty.co.uk’s Write and Register a Will Week campaign last year, found that 29.3 million of the UK adult population (58 per cent) currently have no will, despite the disastrous position this puts your nearest and dearest in when you have gone.
“The important thing to remember, even if you have already made your will, is that you must keep it up-to-date”
The reality for the people you love if you die without leaving a will is uncertainty, heartache and, in the worst case scenario, litigation as those who feel they are ‘entitled’ to your estate potentially take action against each other to maximise their share. By writing a will, you can be sure that your wishes are laid out clearly and the likelihood of putting your family through any unnecessary distress at what is already a traumatic time is significantly diminished.
What happens if you die without a will?
Few people realise how their estate will be broken up if they fail to make a will and die ‘intestate’, but there are very specific rules that are set down by the Crown to deal with this eventuality, which may not tally with the way you would have split your estate yourself. For example, your spouse or civil partner and any children would split your estate in the first instance, but any wider family or friends you wanted to leave something to would miss out.
So, writing a will should be something you consider to be an essential part of your financial planning. Not only will it help your family by preventing them from dealing with a difficult and upsetting situation, it will also help to secure their future in the way you want it to.
Speak to your financial adviser
A good financial adviser will usually have links to third-party lawyers that you can be referred to, and it is sensible to get your financial adviser to help when you are dealing with the contents of the will. For example, when you are writing your will, you need to consider a number of things, like identifying all of your assets and how they are made up. This would include property, investments, pensions, life insurance and possessions – such as cars, works of art, jewellery and so on. You need to identify the various accounts you may hold, such as savings accounts, current accounts, premium bonds and anything else you can think of, until you have a complete picture of your financial worth.
Once you have done this, you then need to consider who needs your protection financially, and how that should be approached to make the most of your estate when you have gone. Your spouse or civil partner and your children are an obvious priority, but if you have children from a previous marriage, or other relatives or friends you feel you want to assist with your wealth then you need to make provision for them as well.
What if you cannot make your own decisions?
Of course, you may find yourself in a position where you are not able to make your own decisions before you die and in that case you need to be sure you have given someone you trust your lasting power of attorney (LPA).
This must be done while you are still mentally capable of making the decision to put this in place and it will allow someone to make decisions on your behalf if you reach a point where you cannot make them yourself.
There are two types of LPA, a property and financial affairs LPA and a healthcare and personal welfare LPA. Both allow someone to make decisions on your behalf, so you must choose someone you trust implicitly.
A will is a ‘living’ document
The important thing to remember, even if you have already made your will, is that you must keep it up-to-date. There is little point in creating a will a decade ago when you had significantly less wealth than you have now and thinking it will still apply to your current position. The chances are, if you died now, an out of date will would leave your family in almost as difficult a position as they would be in if you had no will at all.
You can diarise a time to revisit your will if you think that will be the most effective way to remind yourself to update it. For example, you might want to check your will once a year when you do your financial review with your adviser, as that would be the time that you are most likely to be thinking about your overall financial worth.
If you choose not to do this, then you must at least check your will is still relevant if you have a significant life event, such as getting married, getting divorced, having children, if your spouse or civil partner happened to die – anything that would make a change to your intended beneficiaries. Also, it may be sensible to update your will if you happened to have a significant financial event, like a large bonus, or an unexpected downturn in your financial affairs if, perhaps, you lost your job or became too ill to work.
Make your files easy for your family to find
Of course, having a will – even an up-to-date will – is no use if your family does not know where to find it, so it is vital to keep your family informed of your financial affairs in some way. Not many of us want to be telling our children or even our spouses and civil partners everything about our personal finances and if you are in this position then you need to consider the best way to do this.
A good financial adviser should be able to help you with this and if you can use an online ‘repository’ for the information that all of us build up over time in our lives, it will make life much easier. It will also help you keep tabs on everything you need over the year. For example, being able to use a checklist for relevant financial items and paperwork and then scanning these documents to be held online will save a lot of searching not just for your family, but also for you each time you need to renew your insurance or check on the progress of your portfolio.
Having everything set up so you can access these materials online not only helps you, it will help your family when you are no longer around, as they will only have to go to one place to find everything related to your financial affairs.
Speak to a whole of market financial adviser to help you write your will and keep it up to date.
About the author
Alan Smith is the CEO of Capital Asset Management. His specialisms include: wealth management, strategic financial planning and creative tax planning.
Please note: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by our contributing authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of unbiased.co.uk.