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The importance of making a will

The increasing complexity of modern family life – property prices inflating estates, second marriages – has made having a will more important than ever. However, many people (3 out of every 5 people) don’t get around to making a will, or forget to update it as their circumstances change.

Why make a will?

  • The only certain way to ensure that your spouse, partner or relative inherits what you intend is by making a will. If you die without having made a will the rules of intestacy will decide who gets what in a rather arbitrary manner, particularly if you have no children. This may lead to your spouse having to share your estate with relatives (e.g. brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces) who you might not have intended to benefit.

  • “Home-made” wills (or pre-printed ones bought from a stationers) can suit some simple situations but these can also be disastrous – for example, if you fail to provide for who will inherit if the main beneficiary dies before you or you don’t take advantage of the nil-rate tax band. However, for many people it might be more appropriate to consult a solicitor to get advice – this does not have to be expensive.

  • You can provide for any specific funeral arrangements that you would prefer, e.g. how the service is conducted, burial or cremation, giving your body to medical research.

  • In the case of children under the age of 18, guardians must be appointed in the event of the unexpected death of both parents.

  • You must appoint executors to deal with your estate and hold property in trust, e.g. for children under 18 years. Executors must be carefully chosen and be willing to carry out your wishes. A will allows you to choose who your executors will be.

  • Inheritance tax (IHT) can be saved if the wills of a husband and wife are drafted carefully – to use both nil-rate bands if possible. 

  • A will can be used to gift money to a charity, or to leave specific items, e.g. jewellery, to named people.

  • Remember – unmarried partners and partners who have not registered a civil partnership cannot inherit from each other unless there is a will.

Wills should be reviewed at least every three to five years, and particularly in the event of changed circumstances, e.g. following an inheritance from parents or following a divorce.

The rules of intestacy are different in Scotland.

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