Why making a will prevents a chance of a bitter, legal wrangle

Dying without a will can leave your family in dispute when they should be grieving.

Do you have a valid will? No? Then join the majority. More than two-thirds of us have not made one. And that is the only way to make sure that your wishes will be carried out after your death. With no will, your property will pass according to the law of intestacy and that may not be what you would have wanted.

Do you have a valid will? No? Then join the majority. More than two-thirds of us have not made one. And that is the only way to make sure that your wishes will be carried out after your death. With no will, your property will pass according to the law of intestacy and that may not be what you would have wanted.

If you are married and die intestate, you cannot assume that your partner will get everything automatically. Brothers and sisters or parents may have a claim. If you have a partner but are not married, you will be treated as a single person and your surviving partner may not get anything.

Intestacy can lead to argument and dispute when the family should be grieving. It is foolish to consider that those who could claim part of the estate will not do so.

Sadly, when individuals realise they could get something for nothing, greed can evaporate family loyalties.

The factors taken into account are whether the deceased is married, has children and the value of the estate.

With married couples who have no will, if an estate is worth £125,000 or less, the surviving spouse inherits everything. But, if it is worth more, the survivor gains only a proportion.

If there are children, the spouse receives £125,000 and a life interest in half the remainder. Life interest means the income from that - the capital cannot be touched.

The other half of the remainder is divided equally among the children. If they are under 18, the money is held in trust until they reach their majority.

In certain circumstances, it may be possible for funds to be released early for a child's education or general advancement.

If there are no children, the surviving spouse receives the first £220,000 plus half of the remainder. The balance of the estate is shared between the parents. If there are no surviving parents, but living brothers and sisters, the spouse receives the first £200,000 plus half of the balance. The remaining monies are divided between the siblings.

In cases where there are no surviving parents or siblings and the estate is worth more than £125,000, it will go to the spouse in its entirety..

When a single person dies intestate, in the eyes of the law partners are single people, so the estate will be equally divided between his or her children. If there are no children, it will be divided equally between the deceased's parents.

The orders of inheritance under intestacy continue to grandparents; uncles and aunts of the whole blood or, if deceased, to their issue; uncles and aunts of the half-blood or, if they are deceased, to their issue. If there are no surviving relatives, the estate goes to the Crown. A will is absolutely essential for co-habiting couples.

Although living together as "man and wife", neither partner has the rights of an actual married couple. In situations where one partner owns the home, the next of kin could force sale of the property from under the feet of the survivor.

Even when the property is owned jointly, matters may not be clear-cut. Property may be owned in two ways, as a joint tenancy or as a tenancy-in-common. In the first case, when a co-owner dies, the surviving owner automatically takes over the deceased's half.

But when a property is held as a tenancy-in-common, it will pass under the terms of any Will or the Laws of Intestacy. Any surviving partner in the unfortunate situation of seeing a partner's assets passing to a next-of-kin can make a claim on the estate.

But the survivor has to prove they were either financially dependent on the partner who died, or that they had been living together for more than two years.

This involves complicated and costly legal proceedings. Many months could elapse before any decision. Bereavement following the loss of a partner is hard enough without the hassle of legal wrangling.

Forget about drafting your own will. Most disputes involving wills in the courts arise from homemade ones. Even completing a will form obtainable from stationers is not recommended. A last will and testament is a legal document and it is essential that expert advice be sought.

Apart from avoiding ambiguities, an expert will ensure that the will is properly witnessed. Failure to follow very specific rules will make the document worthless.

Expert advice is available in three ways. First, some organisations offer their services by post. This is not necessarily a cheaper option.

Except for the simplest of wills, the remoteness of the service can result in protracted correspondence until the document is to the customer's wishes.

There is nothing like personal contact for what is an important document. This can be achieved in two ways: from a solicitor or a professional will writer. If you do not already have a solicitor, a friend may be able to recommend one.

Alternatively look under solicitors in your local telephone directory. The Law Society recommends choosing one who is approachable as well as affordable.

The Society of Will Writers will put you in touch with a writer in your area, and you can call their free help line on 0870 741 0463. Advice and help is given on technical problems as well as help in tracing lost or missing wills.

William Heath, a solicitor and senior partner in William Heath & Co in Paddington, London, says a pair of wills for husband and wife will cost between £75 and £100. A single will costs around £50. Mr Heath emphasises that this is for straightforward documents.

A will writer typically charges £80 to £90 for a pair of wills for husband and wife and £60 for a single document. Will writers usually visit clients in their homes.

As well as wanting to know your intentions, whoever draws up the document will want to know whom you are appointing as executor. This is the person who will actually carry out your wishes after your death.

It is advisable to appoint at least two executors. They could be friends, family members or your solicitor. Make sure you ask your executors first and think about asking people who are younger than yourself.

When all is completed keep your will in a safe place, with your solicitor or in safe keeping at your bank and advise your executor(s) where it is kept.

Finally, remember to review your will periodically. That is every five years or after a major life change such as marriage, divorce, a house move or the addition of a child or grandchild to the family.

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