Writing your first will?
A will is an important legal document and it is easy to get wrong
Wills, Trusts and tax planning
Do I need a solicitor to make a Will?
No, but it can help avoid any problems. A Will is an important legal document which deals with all your possessions, and it is easy to get it wrong.
For example, if you wrote your own Will and said; “I leave my diamond necklace to my daughter”, do you mean just the necklace you had at the time of the Will. What if you sold it and got another one before you died? What if you have another daughter before you die? What if your daughter predeceases you? What if you have two diamond necklaces?
Solicitors have the knowledge to draft a Will that should avoid some of the problems which could arise in this sort of situation.
There are also important provisions about the signing and witnessing of a will that a solicitor can guide you through to avoid making the sort of mistakes which can invalidate it.
Will I need to see the Solicitor?
Most solicitors prefer to see clients making a Will because they need to make sure that you have the capacity to do so, but some solicitors may be prepared to take instructions by telephone or other means.
What do I need to decide before seeing the solicitor?
You need to know roughly what you own and the value of it, for example the value of your house and any investments. You need to decide who you want to leave what to.
Generally, people do not do long lists of individual small items that they want to leave. Most wills have a modest number of gifts and then divide the remaining bulk of the estate between residuary beneficiaries, but it is up to you.
You also need to decide who you want to be the Executors in the event of your death. The Executors are responsible for administering and distributing your estate. Some people nominate their solicitors, but you do not have to. If you have a small estate, it may not be worth paying solicitors to be Executors and your beneficiaries may well be able to do it if you nominate them.
If you have, small children you may want to say something about who you would want to look after them.
You may also want to express a view about your funeral arrangements.
You need to know roughly the size of your estate because the solicitor should consider tax and what you may want to do to mitigate it. This could include gifts during your life or setting up trusts. This is a complex area, and you will need to seek the solicitor’s advice about your individual circumstances. Tax is becoming more relevant than ever because house price inflation means, for example, that even people with modest sized houses in the southeast can end up with an estate that could be taxable on death.
If a relative dies what do I need to do?
The old-fashioned reading of a Will on death, in a solicitor’s office, no longer happens. It is the job of the Executors named in the Will to apply for the grant of probate gather in the assets and distribute them in accordance with the Will.
If you have been appointed an Executor in a Will you do not necessarily need a solicitor to apply for the grant of probate. You may well be able to do that yourself although you could instruct a solicitor to advise or assist you.
If it is a big estate or there are tax issues, you may want to instruct a solicitor to assist you because the tax liabilities and arrangements can be complex.
What if there is no Will?
If someone dies without leaving a Will there are rules of intestacy that take over. These determine who should administer the estate and how it should be distributed. Again, if it is a small estate and no complicated family relationships, you may be able to do it yourself. However sometimes it is necessary to trace lost or unknown relatives and of course tax may still have to be paid in a larger estate, so using a solicitor may be advisable if there are any such complexities.
How much should it cost?
Wills vary from a few pounds for one that you draft yourself to thousands if they involve complicated tax or other provisions. However most solicitors have fixed fees and for uncomplicated family Wills charge a few hundred pounds or sometimes less. It is important to know roughly the value of what you own and what you want to do with it before you get a quote from the solicitor because high value assets and tax advice will involve a higher charge. However, it is worth remembering that the right advice could save your beneficiaries and family very many thousands of pounds and make sure that your wishes are followed.