Information Unlimited

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Over pounds 2bn is left each year in the UK by people who haven't made a will.

The vast majority of disputes involving wills which reach the courts arise from home-made wills.

Over 2,000 solicitors' offices in the UK are taking part in Will Aid '98, a scheme to encourage people to prepare their will. Throughout the month of November, instead of charging to prepare wills, solicitors will ask for a donation and the money raised goes to various charities.

Reasons for having a will

By making a will, you choose who inherits your assets. If you die without a will, the state makes the decision for you and it may not be what you would want.

If you are in a relationship but unmarried, your partner will not receive anything if you die without a will.

If you are married and have children, your husband or wife may not receive everything you own unless you have a will.

If you made a will some years ago, you may need to review it to take account of changes in the law or changes in your personal circumstances - moved house, divorced etc.

Marriage or remarriage invalidates any previous will.

Divorce affects a will but separation doesn't.

If you have children, a will allows you to appoint legally guardians for them and ensure their financial security.

Tips about wills

Anyone over the age of 18 in England and Wales is eligible to make a will. The age for making a will is lower in Scotland.

To be legally binding, a will must be properly drawn up, signed and witnessed by two people. Beneficiaries or their spouses cannot be witnesses.

Partners should make separate wills

When someone dies, all their assets are frozen until probate is granted. Before the instructions in their will can be carried out, probate or official validation needs to be obtained from the local probate registry and none of their property should be sold, or given away, until it has been granted. If the estate is worth less than pounds 5000, probate is not normally required.

Both you and your partner should make separate wills.

By organising things ahead of time, you can make your will more tax- efficient. Accountants can help you divide your assets in a way which allows your beneficiaries to avoid paying so much inheritance tax.

Keep your will in a safe place and advise your executors as to where it is

A will deals with:

- the appointment of the executors;

- guardians for children;

- funeral wishes;

- distribution of property and assets;

- grants powers to the executors which they will need in order to carry out their duties properly.

Administering an estate

Executors and Administrators are people appointed to wind up the estate of the deceased. If there has been a will, executors should have been appointed. The executor settles all debts, obtains pay-outs on life insurance policies and transfers ownership of property to the beneficiaries.

You don't have to appoint a professional to administer your estate; you can appoint friends or relatives.

Who can help

Legally, you can draw up a will by yourself but if your affairs are in any way complicated, you should have it drawn up by a solicitor. If for example, you own your own business, are involved in insurance syndicates, family or charitable trusts you should definitely consult a professional.

Solicitors costs can vary from pounds 50 to pounds 1000, depending on the size of your assets and the detail required.

Banks, building societies and some life insurance companies offer will- making services but sometimes they also insist on being appointed as the executors. As they charge to do this, it should only be considered if it is difficult to appoint friends or relatives as executors.

Charities, such as Oxfam or help the Aged, sometimes offer the service, in the hope that you will leave them something in the will.

Professional will writers can be cheaper than solicitors. Contact the Institute of Professional Willwriters on 01905 611165.

DIY packs are available in stationery shops but may not be appropriate for your needs and care needs to be taken with wording. If you make an error or your instructions are not clear, your will may be rendered invalid or require interpretation by a court. For DIY advice, try Which? and Probate, pounds 10.99, and What to do when someone dies, Paul Harris, pounds 9.99

Useful numbers

Society of Will Writers - 0800 838270

Institute of Professional Will Writers - 01905 611165.

Will Aid Helpline - 0870 60 60 239

`Women Unlimited: The Directory for Life', published by Penguin at pounds 9.99