We’ve heard it all before. We risk nightmare scenarios after our death if we don’t have a will, from the wrong people getting their hands on our hard-earned cash to our children being left nothing. At least that’s what experts warn us.
But am I really jeopardising my family’s future because I don’t have one? Or are these scare tactics just another way of getting us to pay for services we may not need, especially if we don’t own a home?
Having a legal will means you can state exactly what happens when you die, from where your house will go, what will happen at your funeral, and who will become your children or pets’ legal guardians.
But 49 per cent of us don’t have one, according to research from charity will-writing scheme Will Aid, and it’s pretty low down the list of life admin for most of us.
In fact, until very recently it had been one of those things I had been avoiding. I don’t own a house yet and therefore had always dismissed it as a thing to do when I get onto the property ladder.
I’m married so my husband would inherit everything I own and he would be the one looking after our child, and two cats.
So, what would be the point in writing a will? Actually a whole range of reasons I’d not given much thought to.
If he also died at the same time, what happens next? Would our assets go straight to our daughter and who would arrange this? More importantly, who would become her guardian and would our cats be turfed out onto the streets?
A third of parents haven’t named a legal guardian for their children, according to Will Aid.
If you don’t have a will, you have no say over these things and while it’s easy to assume the person you had in mind to inherit your assets and look after your dependents would do it, there are no guarantees this will happen.
When it comes to children, for example, a court will actually decide legal guardians if there is no will in place.
It also saves those left behind a whole admin headache. When someone dies it’s not only extremely upsetting and emotional, there’s also usually a lot of paperwork to wade through. Having a will is one way to save your family from any extra stress at this time.
When you write a will you not only state who will inherit your assets, you can also add details about where your money is, if there’s someone in particular you’d like to pass along something specific to, and your wishes for your funeral.
A will can also be a tool when it comes to inheritance tax as no tax will be due on money and assets left to a spouse.
It becomes an especially important document if you’re not married or in a civil partnership. For those living together without one of these official documents, partners have no legal right to any assets. In the worst-case scenario this could mean having to move out of a home you own together and losing joint savings at an already distressing time.
You can either go to a solicitor or use an online will-writing service. The cost is generally cheaper for online companies but they are largely unregulated. With a solicitor, for example, they will be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). You can complain directly if you have an issue or escalate the problem to the Legal Ombudsman.
Most online will-writing services do not have this layer of protection so if you do go for one of these, pick one which is a member of an official organisation such as the Society of Will Writers (SWW) or the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.
For a straightforward will, an online company should be able to provide everything you need at a reasonable cost, but if you have a more complicated situation such as children from different partners, or assets in other countries, it could be worth seeking out a solicitor.
Wills also need to be updated when life events happen, such as marriages, divorces, or if your financial situation changes.
November marks Will Aid’s charity drive, which supports the work of nine UK organisations. Throughout the month participating solicitors write basic wills for people in exchange for a voluntary donation to the campaign, which will the be sent on to the charities.
It’s a chance to get a will written at a discounted price as the campaign asks for a donation of £100 for a single will and £180 for mirror wills for a couple.
Lorraine Robinson, head of legal for Farewill, said: “Even if you don’t own property and you think you have nothing worth inheriting, if you don’t have a will the laws of intestacy will determine how any belongings you have will be distributed and it could be left up to the courts to decide who will be responsible for caring for your children.
“Unmarried couples don’t inherit anything when their partner dies in the UK, so it’s really important to have a will in place to set out your wishes. It’s also a way of passing on sentimental items or messages to those closest to you, and remembering causes you care about as the intestacy rules don’t leave anything to charities.
“Having a will that records what you want to happen when you die, and how you want to be celebrated at your funeral, can also help save your loved ones a lot of uncertainty and stress at a very difficult time.”