We are often in life being asked to rate services between one and ten with one being the truly awful and ten being out of this world. Where would your Will sit on such a scale? Do you even have a Will? One in two of us apparently do not. If you add to this that one in two of us, it is said, are not married or in a civil partnership, then you have a recipe for disaster. Remember, it does not matter how many years you may have lived with somebody, if you are not married or civil partners you do not inherit anything from them in the absence of a Will. If you have children, then everything will go to them. If you do not have children, then it will go to your partner’s nearest living relatives. That is right, a brother-in-law, that you cannot stand, scoops the pot.
Does your will…….
If you have a Will, when was it last updated? Does it take advantage of all the current Inheritance Tax reliefs that are available? Did you make the Will yourself? We had some clients, not that long ago, who drew up their own Wills in which they succeeded in disinheriting each other. Sadly, this was only discovered after the death of one of them when it was found the deceased spouse had left everything to their children ages three and five.
It can be extremely important to make a Will if you have young children. This allows you to appoint legal guardians to look after them in the event that something happens to yourself and your spouse/partner. You do not want to leave it up to Social Services and the Courts to decide who gets custody of your children.
Many Wills are poorly drawn. A properly drawn Will needs a certain amount of time and thought and should be prepared by a solicitor who specialises in such work. You would not go and see a dentist if you broke your leg but many clients go to solicitors who do Wills on the side adjunct to conveyancing or crime or matrimonial law or they may go to a Will writing company. You need have no qualifications to set up a Will writing company.
Good bad and the down right…..
So what makes a good Will, which is easy to administer once you have passed away? Remember, once you are deceased, it can be extremely difficult to change the terms of your Will. You can do what is called a post-death Deed of Variation, however, that does involve the agreement of all vested interests and beneficiaries rarely want to give up any advantage which has been gained as a result of poor drafting.
We sit on a fortune
Many people see their homes their biggest asset and they will often be keen that a friend or relative shall inherit it following their death. We see frequent Wills where specific gifts of the house has been given, however, no thought is given to the fact that the house may not be owned at your death. The result of this is that the person that you wanted to inherit the bulk of your estate often will get nothing.
Clauses, Clause Santa Clauses
The 28 days survivorship clause between spouses or partners is also very common, however, the effect of this is that you may not be able to take full advantage of the transferrable nil rate band. Equally, gifts to grandchildren can be contingent upon them reaching the age of 18 or 25. Where such a clause is present then further Inheritance Tax relief can be lost.
Where there is a will there is a ……
When leaving property in a Will it is extremely important to be clear exactly what is being left. We recently saw a Will where a property, 1 Stone Cottage, was left with no further description, when we considered the Land Registry title to 1 Stone Cottage, it not only included the property itself, but also a number of adjacent fields, all of which apparently planning consent could be obtained upon for development. Did the Will leave just the property or also the adjacent land? It is important to be clear. This is the biggest problem with making a Will yourself. It is incredibly difficult to be objective. You may know what you mean but will anybody else?
We leave it, to those we love
The average house price in the country is now £250,000. For people living in London, then it is normally at least £500,000. When we die, most of us would wish our affairs to be as straightforward as possible and for assets to go to those we love. We would not want them to have to pay more tax than they should or to be embroiled in endless dispute. If you wish to avoid this then it is important that you have a Will which is clear and tax effective and has been prepared by a solicitor who specialises in such an area of law. If you have concerns about your Will or think it is need of updating then please contact us. We will happily review your current Will without charge and let you know if we feel it is in need of amendment.
Nigel George is a member of STEP, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. He is the Head of the Life Planning Department.