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Making a Will is such a simple and straightforward process that you'd think everyone over the age of 18 would do it.
Sadly, many people leave making a Will until later in life and often this means too late. Making a Will has a great deal of benefits, in contrast with your estate being distrubuted on 'intestacy' rules. For example:
- Guardians: You can appoint guardians for your minor children rather than leave who will care for them to chance.
- Funeral wishes: You can set out your funeral wishes. Even if you really have no preference, this can remove a lot of stress for loved ones who otherwise have to second-guess what you might have wanted on your death.
- Trusts: You can protect some of your assets by leaving them in trust. For example, you might grant a life interest to your spouse in your share of the family home with the remainder to your children. If your spouse remarries after your death, there is no risk that your share will pass sideways out of the family. Trusts can similarly help protect assets left to grown up children who may go through divorce or financial difficulties.
- Pets: You can leave pets much like you leave personal property, together with a gfit of money contingent on the beneficiary accepting responsibility for the pet.
- Property: You can specify what happens to your assets and ensure sentimental items are left with those who would appreciate them.
- Cohabitees: Provide for cohabitees, who currently do not benefit under the rules of intestacy (i.e. the rules about distributing your estate if you did not make a Will) even if they have children with you.
- Charitable gifts: If you wish, you can include a formula that specifies a certain proportion of your estate goes to charity, so that your estate benefits from a reduced rate of inheritance tax.
- Legacy: A Will is a sort of message to your loved ones after you die. It's an opportunity to show them that you care by thinking of them and providing for them. Failure to make a Will sends the opposite message!
Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be extremely stressful. What were their wishes regarding a funeral? What did they want to happen to their personal possessions? How did they want their assets to be split? If all these things are unknown, the stress is increased at an already very difficult time. A Will provides clear answers for those left behind and a clear message that you cared enough to put your affairs in order.
By contrast, without a Will, your estate will pass according to intestacy. For example, the first £250,000 of your estate will pass to your spouse or civil partner (if you have one) with the remainder split 50/50 between your spouse and your children (if you have them). Even if this seems acceptable now, it may not be sufficient at the time of your death.
Example: You are married with two children. Imagine that on your death you had no mortgage on your family home which was owned as tenants in common in equal shares and worth £650,000. Aside from your family home, your only other asset was a bank account in your sole name worth £30,000. Your estate would be worth £355,000, consisting of half the £650,000 house and the cash in your bank. Under the rules of intestacy, your spouse would get the first £250,000 and the balance of £105,000 would be split between your spouse and the children. As most of your estate is tied up in the family home, your wife would need to find £52,500 to 'buy out' the children (they could take the £30,000 cash and she would then need to find an additional £22,500). Clearly this is far from ideal. Had you made a Will, you could have left your wife a life interest in the family home with the remainder to your children. This would ensure your wife was taken care of during her lifetime and on her death, at least £325,000 would be preserved for the children - even if she remarried or ran into financial difficulties whilst she was alive.
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