Making a Will is one of the most important things you will do in your lifetime. It caters for far more than just who will benefit from your belongings (your estate).
If you do not have a Will the government will decide who inherits your possessions, property and money. Who inherits your estate will be decided by the Law of Intestacy (1925) and as you can imagine they are unlikely to divide your assets in the way you would choose. Under the Law of Intestacy if you are unmarried and have no close relatives your Estate will automatically pass to the Crown (government) if there is no valid Will in place.
By making a Will you can decide exactly who gets which assets and how much. This could be almost anything from personal belongings to pets or property. You will also help avoid unnecessary arguments amongst family members or relatives, that can arise when a deceased person’s wishes are unclear.
Inheritance tax is the tax you pay on your estate. In simple terms this is everything that you own at the time of your death, once you have taken away anything that you owe.
Writing a Will allows you to greatly reduce the amount of inheritance tax you pay or even eliminate it altogether. Certain things can be given to particular people and organisations without inheritance tax being charged on them. This then allows you to provide more money for the people you want to receive it rather than paying it to the taxman.
If you have children who are below the legal age to live alone, preparing a Will is especially important. In your Will you can appoint guardians to care for your children in the event of your death. If you fail to do so the authorities will do so on your behalf, in the way they see fit. However, they may not choose the people you would have chosen to care for your children. This can be distressing for the children, as well as other family members, at a particularly difficult time. In some situations, this could mean that a partner (who you are not married to) is not granted guardianship, even though they are the natural parent.
Most people choose to appoint a family member as a guardian for their children, especially if the children are very young. With older children who have not yet reached eighteen, friends who live close by and share a similar lifestyle to your family are often appointed as guardians. It is recommended to appoint two guardians in your Will, who are partners and live together, as this will provide your children with a settled family environment at a very difficult time. If circumstances change then the guardians can be omitted from the Will and new guardians can be appointed, by means of writing a codicil. Alternatively, substitute guardians in case of a sudden change of circumstances can be appointed in the Will.
A guardian appointed in the Will would be responsible for the day-to-day care and upbringing of the child or children. How you would like your children to be brought up can be explained in a letter to the trustees to ensure your wishes are taken into account and made clear to the guardians chosen. The financial arrangements in relation to bringing up the children are best left to the trustees of your estate. They are also responsible for ensuring that any inheritance the children receive before they reach eighteen is held in a trust for them, until they are old enough to decide responsibly how to use it.
Further information on appointing legal guardians can be found in our section Do you need to appoint Legal Guardians?
It is a good idea to set up a trust for your children’s inheritance as it allows you some control over your money once you pass away. It is possible for you to lay down certain terms to help protect assets from youthful irresponsibility.
This is particularly useful when making long term financial provisions for disabled children.
For more information, see the section on Trusts.
In your Will you can include any legacy that you wish to leave to particular organisations or charities. This could be a specific amount of money or even a valuable item, for example a piece of jewellery.
Any charitable donations you make in your Will are free from Inheritance Tax.
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A will is a legal document where a person, names one or more persons to manage his or her affairs and estate. In “olden” times, a Will referred to property, and a Testament referred to personal property, hence the term now used “Last Will and Testament”.
If someone dies without making a will, they are said to have died “intestate”. If this happens, the law sets out who should deal with the deceased’s affairs and who should inherit their estate (property, personal possessions and money).
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