About 70 per cent of adults would be intestate if they died today, according to the Law Society, the organiser of 'Make a Will Week'.
The Law Society estimates that the average fee charged, by solicitors and will-writing companies alike, is pounds 50 across the country for a standard will. In some areas solicitors charge as little as pounds 15. At the other end of the spectrum a complicated will drawn up by City solicitors could cost up to pounds 400. But whatever the relative costs, the growing wills industry argues that a will can save beneficiaries from financial hardship and unnecessary stress at the time of their bereavement.
Growing divorce rates, the fashion of living together without getting married, an increase in single- parent families and the growth of home ownership all strengthen the case for making a will.
The intestacy laws are built around the traditional family. Whereas a wife will automatically receive the first pounds 75,000 of her husband's estate, a cohabiting partner can stand to inherit nothing. But even a wife can find that she needs to sell the marital home to pay out the other automatic beneficiaries. If there are no children, the wife will inherit the first pounds 125,000 of her husband's estate before other relatives are entitled to a share. If the couple had children, they will be eligible for a share in the estate if his assets were worth more than pounds 75,000 when he died. Despite the depression in the property market, many people will find that their assets are worth more than pounds 75,000.
Beneath the publicity there is a debate on whether or not to use a solicitor. The solicitors' body, the Law Society, argues that even the best will-writing kits cannot deal with the complexities found in most people's personal arrangements and tax affairs.
Some charities (the beneficiaries of many wills) support this view. Homelife (once known as the Distressed Gentlefolk's Aid Association) 'strongly' recommends the use of a solicitor. By contrast, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People is promoting a pounds 49.95 'wills by post' service through the Willmaker organisation.
Willmaker, which has prepared 4,000 wills in the past year, offers a second wills kit for pounds 25 for partners of users of their main service.
But for many the best solution could come next month when 2,000 solicitors offer will- making services free in the 1992 Will Aid Campaign. In return for having their wills drawn up, members of the public will be asked to donate at least pounds 35 to the consortium of five charities behind Will Aid - Actionaid, Cafod, Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save the Children.
Gimmicks, free booklets and discounts will all be used this week to attract the attention of the public to wills. Solicitors will be marketing their services in supermarkets around the country, some of them dressing up in the Batman-style clothing of the Law Society's will symbol, Will Power.
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