What is a Last Will and Testament?
A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that sets out how your estate (property, belongings, savings, investments and other assets) will be distributed on your death. It is more commonly known as a Will. It also allows you to make arrangements for who should take care of any children after your death.
How to Make a Will
Your Last Will and Testament is a legal document, and so certain legal formalities have to be complied with when you make a Will. These include:
- You must be 18 years old to make a Will.
- You must have “testamentary capacity”. This means that you must understand what a Will is, that you are making your Last Will and Testament, and also what the effects of the Will are. You must also understand the extent of what you own (for example, the value of your home and how much you have in savings), and be aware of potential claims against your estate, for instance if you are excluding certain family members from your Will.
- A Will must be in writing and must be signed by the person making it (or on their behalf and at their direction) in front of two independent witnesses. If a beneficiary of the Will (or their spouse) witnesses the Will, the Will stays valid but any gift to them will fail.
- Once your Last Will and Testament has been signed, you cannot make amendments to it unless you do so by making a Codicil (which must also follow all of the legal formalities listed above) or by making a new Will. You cannot simply write amendments on to your existing Will, or write a letter to go alongside it.
What happens if you don’t make a Will?
If you die without a Will (intestate), you cannot control who your estate is distributed to, as the distribution is governed by a set of rules called ‘intestacy’. These rules give priority to certain members of your family but will not take into account friends or charities. The rules are rigid and do not take into account any non-blood relatives, other than your spouse. The intestacy rules can often lead to unwanted results, particularly where you have step children that you would want to benefit from your estate.
What can be left in a Will?
Anything that you own can be left in a Will. These may include your: home, car, bank accounts, savings and investments, and personal items. Less obvious assets can also be left in a Will such as digital assets.
However, it is important to be aware that if you own the asset jointly with someone else, it may automatically pass to them on your death.
If you own property abroad, then you may need to take advice in the respective country about whether you can include that asset in your English Will or whether it would be better to make a Last Will and Testament in the respective country.
You might also want to consider who will look after your children upon your death. You can name a guardian in your Will who will then be legally responsible for the child until they reach 18 years old.
How do I write a Will?
When writing a Will, there are a number of steps that you should take.
Firstly, you should consider all of the assets that you own. This might include your home; your personal belongings like the contents of your home, your jewelry, your car and even your digital assets; life insurance and pensions might also be relevant. All of these could form part of your estate when you die. You should also consider any liabilities that you have, for instance a mortgage on your property. Would that be paid off on your death?
Secondly, consider how you own these assets. Are they in your own name or do you own them jointly with someone else? Will they automatically pass to the other joint owner or can you leave them in your Will?
Thirdly, consider who you want to leave your assets to. Would it be family members or friends? Or would it be for charities? Are you excluding anyone who might expect to inherit something? Do you want to leave separate gifts of items or cash to individuals? Are you leaving anything to children under 18 and, if so, do you want to stipulate how old they need to be before they inherit these? Do you want to leave assets outright to people or would you prefer to leave assets in trust for them? Trust can be particularly useful in second marriage situations where each spouse has children from a previous relationship. If any of your beneficiaries are vulnerable, you may also prefer to consider leaving assets in trust for them.
If you have children who are under the age of 18, you should consider who would look after them after your death. This person is known as a “guardian”.
Finally you need to consider who will be the “Executors” of your Will. Executors are responsible for dealing with your estate and distributing it in accordance with the terms of your Will after you have died.
Why Should I Use a Solicitor?
Making your Last Will and Testament can often present you with some difficult decisions. Your estate may also be liable to pay inheritance tax if it is worth more than a certain amount. There is plenty to think about when making a Will and using a solicitor to help you plan and ensure that you have considered every possible angle to make the process easier.
Our Wills service is designed to help you make a Will that is fit for purpose and which takes into account your individual circumstances. No two people or families are ever the same and we will take the time to discuss your individual circumstances with you and suggest a solution that works for you and your family and your particular circumstances.
How much does it cost to make a Will?
The cost of making a Will depends on how complex the Will needs to be.
How can SAS Daniels help with your Will?
More important than the Will is the planning behind it. The Will is just the end product which, when drafted correctly can make sure your affairs are in order, appoint trusted guardians for your children and also detail your final wishes. This can give you real peace of mind and avoid any misunderstandings in the future.
Our specialist team will take the time to meet with you and talk about your individual circumstances. By doing this, we can make sure that your Will reflects the choices you want to make.
When created, the person making a Will must not be influenced by others. With this in mind our team will insist on seeing the person making the Will by themselves. If you are housebound and cannot come to one of our offices, our team will come to you.
By drafting your Will, we can also help you distribute your estate in the most tax efficient way and help you ring-fence assets for your family and future generations in the event that circumstances change, for example death, divorce, bankruptcy or entering long term care. We will leave you with the knowledge and confidence that your assets are fully protected and you don’t have to worry about any family disputes after your death.
If you are preparing to make or change a Will, you can download our making a Will preparation questionnaire to help you make sure everything is covered and that nothing is left out of your Will.
Our Wills service will always involve an initial meeting of around 1 hour with you. This meeting allows us to discuss your personal circumstances in depth, to understand the assets that you have and any tax issues that there may be. We will ask you questions about your personal and family circumstances so that we can understand the dynamics of your family. Following the meeting, we will create a draft Will for you which we will send to you with a comprehensive report, explaining each provisions and covering anything else that we have discussed with you. Once you are happy with the draft Will, we will arrange another meeting to sign the Will, making sure that it is executed properly and that all legal formalities are complied with. We will also safely store the original Will for you.
For more information on our Wills service, please contact our Wills & Wealth Planning team via our contact form or call us on 0161 475 7676.
Job Title: Business Owner, Joint Head of Macclesfield Office, Head of Private Client and Partner
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