What is a Will and why is it important to make one?
A Will is a statement of your wishes in the event of your death. People choose to make a Will for a variety of reasons and at different times throughout their lives and whilst there is no right or wrong time to make a Will, it is generally considered prudent to make one at the earliest opportunity.
No-one likes to think about passing away and leaving family and friends behind them, naturally it is upsetting to think about and this may be why so many people put if off. The reality though is that when a person dies without making a Will, those left behind not only have to contend with the death of their loved one but also the potential and often considerable problems caused by that loved one dying intestate.
What does intestate mean and what are the implications?
Intestate means that the deceased has passed away without making a Will, the implications of this can be extremely complicated, sorting out the deceased’s affairs can take a considerable period of time, possibly years.
In today’s climate of partnerships as opposed to marriage, the situation can be even more worrying as a partner, even a live-in long-term partner, unless ratified by a Civil Partnership, is not automatically entitled to a share of your estate. In these circumstances the only option open to them would be to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; again, this process may be lengthy and is not guaranteed to succeed and whilst their claim is progressing, they may suffer financial hardship.
Step-children do not have an automatic right of inheritance either, unless a specific provision is made in your will it would be extremely unlikely that they would be able to inherit from your estate. They too could try to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, but their claim is limited to maintenance. Therefore if they are a self sufficient adult child their chances of success are slim.
No-one if asked, would choose this situation for their loved ones after their death and the reality is that it can be easily avoided by forward planning. None of us like to think about our own death but the truth of the matter is that it is the only certainty in life.
How do I make a Will?
Making a Will is relatively simple. We are experienced in this field and will ensure that your wishes are catered for and your dependants secure in the unhappy event of your death.
What if I have already made a Will but my circumstances have changed?
Changes to your personal circumstances may adversely affect or invalidate your Will; alternatively, what you would like to happen in the event of your death may change as time goes by.
It is therefore advisable to review your will regularly and always as a result of a change in your marital status or other changes to your family.
Of course, a Will only operates on death, and if help is needed for managing your property and affairs, or with medical or care decisions, you could also consider putting in place a Lasting Power of Attorney, normally appointing one or more of your family to act on your behalf. Please see our FAQ’s on Powers of Attorney for more information.
I have heard of a Living Will, what is this?
A Living Will allows you to make advance decisions about medical treatment that you may or may not be prepared to accept in the future. You may consider making a Living Will for a number of reasons, for example because you have a terminal illness or for religious grounds etc.
Like all Wills, Living Wills should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they accurately reflect your wishes at all times.
What should I do next?
We are experienced in the preparation of all types of Will and would be pleased to act on your behalf in this or any other matter.
If you would like more information or you would like us to act on your behalf, please contact us on 0191 514 4323 (Sunderland) or 0191 511 8222 (Seaham).
A guide to what happens if you do not make a will
- Your spouse will benefit only if he or she survives you by 28 days. If your spouse does not survive for this period, your estate will be dealt with as if you had not been married.
- ‘Issue’ means children (including illegitimate and adopted children but not step-children), grandchildren and great grandchildren etc. Issue will benefit only if their parent has predeceased you. Issue benefit ‘per stirpes’ for example: Where a person who would have inherited has predeceased you leaving 2 surviving children, that person’s share is divided and passed to their children in 2 equal shares.
- ‘Spouse’ also includes any person who is registered as a civil partner, as defined in the Civil Partnership Act 2004.
- On 14 January 2020 the Lord Chancellor made a statutory instrument to increase the fixed sum statutory legacy that a spouse or civil partner will receive under the intestacy rules where the intestate is survived by a spouse or civil partner and issue from £250,000 to £270,000. The order comes into effect on 6 February 2020 and applies only to deaths occurring after the order comes into force.