I have been working in the area of Wills and Probate for longer than I can remember but still I come across a lot of clients who haven’t made Wills for a number of reasons.
A reminder of a person’s mortality is a common theme why people put off making their Wills on the grounds that they “don’t want to tempt fate”. This thought process means that they will only think about making a Will if they have received a life shock such as a heart attack or someone close to them has passed away. I strongly believe that a Will is one of the most important documents you will prepare during your lifetime and therefore, it is one to be undertaken as soon as possible and furthermore, kept under constant review through your lifetime.
What prompts you to make a will
My view is that there are certain life events that should act as a spur for making a Will. The first of these is, of course, the purchase of a property where there needs to be consideration of the continued occupation of a co-owner or even how a mortgage would be repaid on death – all of which are part of the Will and estate planning process.
Marriage/Civil partnership or simply being in a relationship is another trigger point. Children are the next big milestone followed by, if you are lucky, retirement! Unfortunately, divorce is on the increase, which can then further introduce the topic of second marriages and families: How do you provide for the new spouse but at the same time protect your assets for your ultimate beneficiaries such as your children? Receiving an inheritance could be another trigger for making or updating your Will. You can see why Wills are important and need to be continually updated throughout your life and not just at a moment of crisis.
Planning your will
The lack of thought about making a Will or having a hastily drafted Will during your lifetime can also cause difficulties on your death. It is an emotional and stressful time for the relatives you leave behind so you don’t want to give them the headache of an inappropriately drafted Will or having to pay more taxes than they should have to had more time been invested in the process. Even worse can be a situation where a person dies without leaving a Will and their estate has to pass to certain family members under the rules of intestacy which would have gone against their written or spoken wishes in life. Relatives who the deceased hardly knew or disliked can inherit as against those individuals who were close to the deceased. I have seen this situation on several occasions and I know how much heartache it can cause.
An intestate estate can be rectified if the statutory beneficiaries agree to forgo some or all their inheritance under a Deed of Variation or Family Arrangement, but I personally have rarely seen this happen in my working career. If somebody does feel that they are entitled to a share of an intestate estate and if a Deed of Variation is not an option, they can of course make a claim against the deceased’s estate, but this may not be successful and could cost them personally, both emotionally and financially.
The bottom line is that we should not see having a Will as an afterthought but as an important document which will probably need amending and updating as we travel through life. Therein ends my lecture for today!