Five Mistakes When It Comes to Writing a Will
Mark Twain famously said: “The only certainties in life are death and taxes.”
However, despite us all knowing this (the fact, if not the quote), as buttoned-up Brits, we still tend not to talk about death, meaning that all too often, we’re unprepared for the inevitable.
And nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of wills; figures vary, but it is estimated that around 60 to 70 per cent of Britons have yet to make one.
While making a will is the first step, there are also a number of elements you need to be aware of to make sure it does exactly what you want it to, which is why we’d always advise speaking to a professional.
Working with a solicitor in person, rather than an online will provider, makes sure that everything is done properly, although it is still the holder’s responsibility to keep the document regularly updated to remain relevant.
These are five of the most common errors we see when it comes to writing a will.
Assuming order of death
The most common assumption we see, particularly among married couples, is the will writer assuming they’ll die first and therefore leaving everything to their spouse – including custody of any dependents.
While it’s a difficult subject to think and talk about, if you have young children, don’t assume your spouse will still be around to look after them. Obviously, they will be your first choice, but it’s important to plan for what will happen to them should the worst happen.
When it comes to making a will, consider every single eventuality and make sure it is accounted for.
Not following correct procedure
Your will must be signed in the presence of two independent adult witnesses – people over 18 who do not stand to benefit in any way from your death – to ensure it is legally binding.
The process of signing has a number of steps, and each and every one must be adhered to, otherwise the document will be invalid. Firstly, after you’ve signed the document, you must also watch the witnesses sign it. Your witnesses also need to be physically present when you sign, so even something that might seem inconsequential, such as stepping out of the room at the wrong moment, could mean the entire process is invalidated.
Something else to consider is appointing an executor to deal with the administration of your will, although this is not essential. Some people like to know exactly who will be handling their affairs, but the state will appoint an executor if none is specified.
Letting things lapse
A will is living document; that is, as you and your life change, it needs to change too. Because while there is a temptation to make your will and tick it off your life admin to-do list, in reality, it needs to accompany you in any major upheaval.
Maybe you’ve got married (or divorced), had more children, or lost touch with the people you previously named as guardians of your children.
All of these scenarios could have a major impact on your final wishes so need to be reflected in your will.
However, this isn’t a straightforward as adding a note in the margins or slipping a sticky note on top; it needs to be much more official than that.
You’ll need to make what’s known as a codicil, which must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the original will.
Forgetting the little things
You want to make sure your kids share the house and the eldest gets the car – surely that’s all you need to worry about?
Well, no. Your will is a chance to specify who gets all the smaller, more personal items, that may have less monetary value but are still incredibly valuable.
You don’t have to go through all your belongings, allocating each one, but this is your chance to earmark anything with sentimental value that you may want to go to a specific person.
In here, you can also include other financials, such as any savings accounts, premium bonds or investments.
One more thing to consider, now we’re all living our lives online, is what you want to happen with any social media accounts and who you want to nominate to deal with that part of your life.
Leaving people out
If you want to, for whatever reason, leave one of your dependents (to whom property would usually transfer in the normal run of things) out of your will, you need to be explicit about your reasoning.
Disinheriting, as the practice is officially known, is a difficult matter to deal with and cases are often contested – and often successfully.
If you do choose to do so, you need to be incredibly clear in your will about why, as well as specifying where your money should go instead.
A will is undoubtedly one of the most important documents you’ll ever create, and getting it right will save your loved ones the added stress of wrangling over who gets or does what.