Updated 03 December 2020
While studying to sit his financial adviser exams, Stephen Womack, shares in our ‘Diary of an adviser’ blog why it is so important to write a will, and make sure your inheritance gets left in the right hands.
Do you fancy leaving your money to Prince Charles?
That’s what could happen if you die without a will and live in Cornwall. Under ancient laws, any ‘bona vacanti’ – your wealth if you die intestate and have no traceable next of kin – goes to the Duchy of Cornwall, which today means Prince Charles.
Last year, the Duchy received just over £500,000 in bona vacanti. And he is not alone. The Queen has rights to money from those who die intestate and live within the Duchy of Lancaster. Historically this money was used to enrich the estates of the Dukes of Cornwall and Lancashire. In this more enlightened age, the Royals have set up charitable foundations to put the bona vacanti money to good work.
If you die without a will elsewhere in Britain and no relatives can be traced, then your money will disappear into Government coffers.
These three examples underline why having a will is so important. If you want to have control over what happens to your wealth after your death, then you need to put down instructions in writing. In an era where divorce and second or even third families are more common, a clearly worded will can be essential.
But there is another lesson from this tale: you can always learn something new.
After 15 years of writing about money for a national newspaper, I thought I had come across most of the quirks in finance. I knew that the Government could benefit if you died without a will. But I only discovered about the possibility of a windfall for Prince Charles when I was studying for the exams you have to pass to be an authorised financial adviser.
The regulator, The Financial Services Authority, raised the bar for advisers from the start of 2013. To offer advice you now have to be qualified to QCF level 4 – broadly equivalent to the standard required in the first year of a university course.
But once qualified, an adviser must undertake 35 hours a year of further training and study to keep up to date. This equates to spending an entire 9am to 5pm working week back in the classroom every year, staying fresh and staying on top of changes in products, regulations and the market.
Just as you might want to draft or update a will if you get married, have a child – or indeed if you move to Cornwall and don’t want to give a legacy to Prince Charles – so a financial adviser has to update their skills to keep on learning and to keep up to date in this changing world. And that has to be good news for their clients.