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It's estimated that as many as 60% of adults in the UK may not have wills. Perhaps this is understandable. After all, they're not compulsory and many people feel that they may not even need one, for the time being at least. But, as we're going to explain, it is a good idea to have one in place, whatever stage of life you may be in. After all, most wills are easy to complete, cost relatively little and can give you real peace of mind.

What is a will?

At its most basic level, a will or, to give its full title, a last will and testament, is a legally binding document that states your wishes after you die. It can be used to specify a number of things, but the most general contents of a will are the instructions about how you would like your estate to be distributed. You can also use it to specify what kind of funeral you would like, even as far as stipulating which hymns, songs or readings that you'd like.

Provided that your will has been properly prepared, it should ensure that all instructions are followed to the letter.

When to make a will

Anyone who has not yet made a will would be well-advised to arrange one as soon as possible. This is because it simply removes an element of doubt about how your affairs will be handled after you die.

There are also several life events that could act as a catalyst for someone to either arrange their first will or replace it with a new one. Typically, these might include:

• Getting married

When most people get married it's almost definite that they will want to include a new husband or wife in their will. And, arguably, an even more important reason is that marriage automatically makes any previous will that may be in place for either partner null or void.

• Getting divorced

When a couple divorces the law views it as if the will-maker's partner has died before them and can therefore not receive any bequests that it may include. This means that if you did want an ex-partner to still receive part of your estate on death a new will would have to be drawn up. it's also likely that you would want a new partner, and even any stepchildren, to be included in the new will.

• Having children

Having children is one of the biggest life changes that most people experience. It also means that they are generally named as beneficiaries in a will. It's also a document in which you can stipulate a chosen guardian to look after your children if both you and your partner die before they reach the age of eighteen. It will also be possible to set up a trust at the same time as a will that could well limit the inheritance tax that may be payable in the future.

• Buying a new home

When it comes to calculating the value of the majority of estates, the property that it includes is often the most valuable asset. So, a house move, or sale is always going to be a good reason to write or revise a will. If you leave property to a spouse or civil partner no inheritance tax is payable. There are also extra allowances against IHT if the property is left to children or stepchildren.

• Receiving an inheritance yourself

Anyone who is left a legacy by a relative or friend will find that this becomes part of your estate. It may well be that you want to pass on some of this inheritance to your own beneficiaries when you die, and your new will is where you'll be able to make your wishes known.

Ten good reasons to make a will

There are countless reasons to make a will, including the ones that have been listed above. But these only tell half the story. So, in no particular order, here are ten ways that having an up to date could well make a real difference to you and your family.

1. Look after your children financially

As well as stating who should look after them if you die, a will also allow you to plan for your children's future financially. For example, you can ask for a fixed amount of money to be put aside to pay for school and university fees or to pay for the first deposit on a home.

2. Provide for your partner if you're not married or in a civil partnership

Unless you're married or in a civil partnership the law doesn't recognise the relationship. This means that your partner will not be entitled to any of your estate if you die without making a will. But doing so gives you the chance to make sure that they are legally entitled to everything you'd like them to receive.

3. Safeguard the family home

If a home is just in your name, then an unmarried partner and any stepchildren you have may not be entitled to stay in it when you die. But if you leave the property in your will or permission called "right to reside" then they will be able to stay in it.

4. Avoid family arguments

Unfortunately, when an estate is divided all too often it can lead to family disputes unless the deceased's wishes are made absolutely clear. Where wills are a little ambiguous, or if there's no will at all, it can lead to disagreements that can take a long time, and a lot of money, to resolve - and sometimes they never can be.

5. Save on Inheritance Tax

Anything you leave to a spouse or civil partner in your will is free from all Inheritance Tax – which is otherwise charged at 40% above the £325,000 threshold. As we've already mentioned, there are also extra allowances when you leave your main home to an immediate family member. Eatons' Wills and Inheritance experts will be able to tell you more..

6. Name your executor

Within your will you can say who you would like to settle all your affairs after your death. This person, or these people as you can choose more than one, will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. It can be quite a complex business so it's a clever idea to consult the person that you choose before naming them as executor in your will.

7. Look after your pets

We've all read stories about beloved pets who have inherited fortunes in the past and can look forward to a life of pampered luxury. While these are extreme examples, you may have pets yourself and want to be sure that they will be cared for and loved once you're not around anymore. Your will is somewhere you can name the person or charity who you would like to look after them.

8. Protect your digital assets

A digital legacy is something that has emerged in recent years, and which now needs to be taken into account and counted as part of an estate. It includes everything from collections of personal photographs to websites and even digital music files that you have downloaded in the past. If you don't account for them in your will there's a danger that they will disappear. But your will gives you a chance to state who you would like them to be passed onto or even if you'd like them destroyed after you die.

9. Support a cause that's important to you

Many charities and other organisations depend fairly heavily on bequests and it's a nice way to show your support for causes close to your heart. What's more, if you leave over 10% of your assets to charity it can also reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that is payable on your estate.

10. Know that everything is in order

Perhaps most importantly of all, when you have a will in place you will also have the peace of mind that the necessary arrangements will be made to distribute your estate and tie up all of your affairs – something that your family will be very grateful for too when the time comes.

Some different types of will

There are several different types of will that are suitable for different people or situations. Here are the four main categories.

•Single Will

As the name suggests, this is a will that may be best suited for unmarried people as it lets you stipulate exactly who you would like to be beneficiaries of your estate. That said, it can also be useful for people who have divorced and then remarried but have children from a previous relationship. This is because it allows you to divide your estate between your current partner and the children you had with a previous one.

Mirror Will

This is the most common kind of will that is drawn up for married couples or those in a civil partnership.

It involves a pair of wills that directly mirror each other so the estate of the first member of the couple to die passes directly to their partner. Unless the surviving partner then makes another will, when they die the estate is divided out according to wishes that both agreed when the mirror wills were written.

•Trust Wills

There are various kinds of Trust Wills, some of which offer more flexibility to use the assets contained with them than others. They can be used for several purposes. Some hold money in trusts until children reach a certain age when they can have access to it, others protect the right of a spouse to continue living in a home until they die, and it is passed on to children or other beneficiaries.

It's a complex and involved area and would need expert guidance.

•Living Wills

Although not concerned with an estate or assets, this is a will all the same. It stipulates medical treatments that you may not want to receive in the future and is put in place in case you are not in a fit state to make your wishes known at the time the treatment may be recommended. Sometimes these are also called Advanced Decisions and are legally binding, so the medical profession is duty-bound to obey your wishes.

Changing your will

As we go through life our situation and circumstances change. This, in turn, means that we may sometimes also want to change our will. For minor changes, these can be achieved through something called a codicil. But for more significant ones, and to ensure total clarity, creating a whole new will and having it witnessed is probably the easier course of action.

Can you write your own will?

The short answer to this question is yes. There are countless online will-writing services that produce perfectly useable and legally correct documents. In some cases where an estate is very straightforward, and the will-maker's wishes are clear these are all that is needed.

But, for more complex situations, it really does help to call in the experts. This is especially true where trusts are to be set up or where there is a wide range of different assets to be distributed amongst a large number of beneficiaries

It takes in-depth legal knowledge to ensure that trusts have been set up properly and will be able to stand up to any challenges that may arise.

In addition, by asking a solicitor like Eatons to create your will or wills, they will also be able to keep a copy on file which can save considerable time and effort when the document needs to find, and your wishes put into practice.

So, if this article has given you cause to think about writing or replacing a will, we will be happy to help. Our expert team have the experience and knowledge to make sure everything is in place as it should be. If you need this help, simply contact us whenever is most convenient for you. You can also fill in our wills questionnaire.


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