Wills - an overview
Making a will is one of the most important things you will ever do, it lets you decide what happens to your money, property and possessions after your death. If you die without a will, the law says who gets what. Our fact sheet answers some common questions.
What is a will?
A will is essentially a set of instructions on how you would like what you own (your estate) to be distributed to your chosen beneficiaries after you die.
A will allows you to name people called executors to deal with the administration of your estate and give effect to your wishes. For example your executors are tasked with calling in your assets, paying your debts and distributing the balance to your chosen beneficiaries.
Why should I make a will?
The main reason you should make a will is to ensure that in the event of your death your loved ones are provided for and those that you would like to benefit do.
You may even have a favourite charity that you would like to leave some money, or specific items that you know someone would make good use of. You can also appoint guardians in a will to look after young children.
Whatever your circumstances, your will is tailored to suit you and should give you peace of mind in knowing that your wishes will take effect.
What happens if I do not make a will?
If you do not make a will then your estate will be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy which prescribe a statutory order of priority as to who gets what.
Whilst these do provide for family members, this may not be how you wish your estate to be distributed and may not ensure that what you have goes to those who need it most.
What are the requirements to make a will?
To make a will, you must be at least 18 and must be mentally capable of making a will.
A will has to be in writing and must be executed in the proper manner in order to be valid. This means you must sign in the presence of two witnesses, who must then countersign in your presence.
What does a will look like?
Generally speaking, most wills start with a clause revoking all previous wills and codicils. Any funeral wishes are listed and executors and/or guardians are appointed. Next, any specific gifts of money or personal possessions are dealt with.
Finally, everything remaining in your estate after the payment of debts, funeral and testamentary expenses (the residue) is distributed to your chosen beneficiaries. This can be left outright to beneficiaries, contingent on a specific event occurring or held on different types of trusts. The manner in which you choose to distribute your estate very much depends on your circumstances.
Married couples tend to make wills that mirror one another. These often leave everything to each other and then make provision for what happens on second death.
Married couples can either leave everything outright to each other or by way of a life interest trust. The latter is useful for second marriages, as it gives your spouse the right to benefit from the income of your estate whilst they are still alive but ensures that the share of the first to die passes to specified beneficiaries, such as children from previous relationships, on the second death.
Keeping your will under review
If you already have a will, it is important to keep this under review in case your circumstances change. For example if you inherit money or if one of your chosen beneficiaries goes through a divorce.
Your will can be amended to perhaps help you tax plan or include provision to protect your assets. Your relationships with executors/ trustees can change, as can the circumstances and needs of your beneficiaries; therefore it is important to ensure that when you die, those managing your estate and receiving gifts are in line with your current wishes.
Leaving gifts to children in your will
As a parent with young children, it is absolutely essential for you to make the right kind of provision for your children in your will. There are three options which are outright gifts, age contingent gifts or the provision of a fully discretionary trust. Download PDF
Guardianship of young children in wills Read more
Leaving gifts to children in your will Read more