Why do I need to make a will?
A will is necessary to make sure that your wealth is passed on to the people or organisations you want. It is also to make sure your dependants are taken care of. If you don't have a will, provision for intestacy will mean that:
- Your spouse will inherit the first £125,000 of your estate.
- If the estate is more than that, the rest is invested, and the spouse gets all the income from that for the rest of his or her life. The children would get the rest of the estate when the spouse dies.
- If you live with a partner to whom you are not married (including same sex partnerships), they will probably not inherit any of your estate if you die intestate.
When do I need to make a will?
It is wise to make a will as soon as you take on family responsibilities,including -
- Getting married
- Living with a partner
- Having children
- You should review your will on a regular basis or as your circumstances change. Your responsibilities change as you go through different life stages, and so may the way you wish your estate to be passed on.
How do I prepare my will?
It is a simple process. A statement of how you wish to dispose of your estate is all that is needed to make a will.
- You also need to appoint executors in your will. The executors are the people charged with carrying out the intentions expressed in your will.
- You can get simple will forms from most stationers, and for simple wills, say, leaving everything to your spouse or partner and children, this could well be all you need.
- You can get a "write your own will" service on the Internet or find sites that will draft a will for you.
- If your affairs require a more complicated will, it is probably better to get a solicitor to prepare the will for you. For a simple will, the cost is likely to be in the region of £70 - £100.
- Some charities have a "free will" service in collaboration with solicitors.
How does it become a legal document?
For your will to become a legal document, you must sign and date it in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses do not have to see the contents of the will - they are only witnessing your signature. They must write their names and addresses, and also sign and date their signatures. The witnesses cannot benefit under your will.
If you make a subsequent will, all previous wills become null and void. This also applies if you get married or divorced.
Scottish law: important differences
The law in Scotland is different to that of England when it comes to wills. Although most of what has been said so far applies to Scotland, there are six important differences:
- The rules of intestate succession (which happens when you die without leaving a will) are different. It is likely that your surviving partner may not end up with the whole of your estate.
- Widowed spouses, children and other descendants have "legal rights" - a fixed share of your moveable property (i.e. anything other than land) which they are entitled to claim, whatever your will says.
- Anyone over the age of 12 can make a will.
- Your old will is not invalidated if you get married, legally separated or divorced. So if your marital situation changes in any of these ways, you should review your will as soon as you possibly can.
- Your will may be invalidated if you have a child after signing the will and have not dealt with this possibility in the will.
- If you live in Scotland or have a will made in Scottish form, you should seek advice on the right clauses to use in your will or codicil. Your solicitor will make sure that the will is legally correct and that your wishes can be carried out.
The Age Concern website provides more information on preparing a will.
For a small charge, you can deposit your will with the local court so that it can be found during probate searches, regardless of whether anyone else knows that the will exists or not.
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