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Practical considerations for writing your will

It’s absolutely something we need to do long before anyone has any need of it. An up-to-date, easy-to-understand will can save your executors from a great deal of anxiety and effort.

But our experience suggests that are a few things to think about carefully before signing off.

Can you do-it-yourself or do you need professional help?

We recently used an online service to update our wills. It was fairly quick and easy, and not as expensive as a professional would have been. But we kept it very simple, which means we may not have covered all eventualities. Friends who wrote their wills at much the same time were asked a great number of ‘what if?’ questions by their will writer, such as ‘What happens if your married children get divorced?’. This is something we hadn’t even considered. When (or if) we update again, we may investigate going the professional route, for the sake of our children’s inheritance and their peace of mind.

Is your chosen professional adviser an expert?

A middle way between using a solicitor or writing your will yourself is to use a will-writing service. However, there has been concern expressed recently that this is not a regulated industry, and anyone can set up a will-writing business. Many will be genuine, but it is worth checking the credentials of anyone you’re thinking of using, to ensure they have the expertise to help rather than hinder you.

Do your executors know what the role means?

There are many challenges along the way of successfully executing a will. How do you set up an executor account when a rapidly decreasing number of financial institutions want to help? What will be the demands of the organisations who will be asked to release valuations for probate and then your funds? Death certificate and the will are the basics, and often they want to see the originals rather than copies. But we’ve also been asked for birth and marriage certificates. Before funds are released, probate has to be granted, and taxes paid where required. And then there may be inheritance tax as well. Supplying as much information as possible to your executors could be invaluable as they start to face the tasks.

Will your executors work well together?

Just because people are siblings, doesn’t mean they can work in harmony on a project such as being executors. If they already squabble about responsibilities, compete with each other, or even don’t talk to each other, sharing this particular task could be hard. We’ve had experience, for example, of three siblings named as executors, who were also set to inherit. Two argued endlessly and the third didn’t get involved at all, engendering all sorts of further bad family feeling. Whoever you choose, do talk to them to get their agreement and make sure they understand the implications.

What about inheritance tax?

If you own your home, then depending on where you live, your estate may surprisingly be liable for inheritance tax, and/or other funds may take your estate over the limit. That’s a significant amount for your beneficiaries to lose. It may be worth employing the services of an estate planning expert well in advance to minimise tax due, within the broader context of managing finances and legal aspects effectively. Be aware though that if you start going down the path of trusts, for example, your executors may well need professional financial and/or legal help to untangle the web. Is that part of the estate planning service or will they need to find and fund this separately?

Are you updating your will?

We wrote our wills a long time ago, and realised that they probably needed updating as there was still provision for named guardians of our children, who are now in their 30s and can probably manage on their own. More than that, circumstances do change, and keeping the will updated reasonably regularly is important. Regular listeners to The Archers radio soap may remember that Will Grundy received the full inheritance from his great aunt as her will didn’t include his brother who was born after the will was written – and Will did not share.

What else are you saying in your will?

Wills aren’t just about who gets what. It’s your opportunity to express your last wishes about your funeral, for example. If you can explain what sort of funeral you would like and how it will be funded, it could relieve your executors from some hard decision-making, and possibly prevent arguments amongst family and friends. On the other hand, if your wishes are too prescriptive, that could just add to the burden of giving you exactly what you wanted.

Find out more

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

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