What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document which sets out how you wish your estate to be dealt with after your death. For a Will to be valid it must be in writing and comply with certain formalities. A Will states who you have appointed to deal with your estate, as well as who you wish to benefit. A Will can also include your funeral wishes and who you have appointed as guardian(s) of your minor children.

Why make a Will?

If you care about what will happen to your estate after you die then you should have a Will. It is a common misconception that if you are married, your spouse will automatically inherit all of your estate. This is not necessarily true. If you do not have a Will, the law will decide what happens to your estate and it can be drastically different from your wishes.

Making a Will is especially important when you have dependants. It ensures they are provided for financially, and also allows you to appoint guardians to any children under the ago of 18.

Making a Will does not attract the inevitable; it merely ensures that you have your affairs in order and avoids loved ones having to face unnecessary legal and financial difficulties at a time of bereavement.

What happens if I die without a Will?

If you die without a Will, your estate will not necessarily pass to your spouse or partner after your death. When you die with no Will you are said to die intestate. When this happens under English law, there are specific rules that set out who can administer your estate and what will happen to your property. This may be vastly different to your wishes and rarely provides adequately for many modern families.

For example, regardless of what your wishes may be, your estate will not necessarily pass to your partner or spouse when you die. While the surviving spouse or registered civil partner will usually benefit over anyone else they may not receive all of your estate depending on whether or not you have children.

In this case your spouse may not receive your entire estate, some of which may go to other relatives. Your spouse may not even receive enough to maintain their current lifestyle.

An unmarried partner is entitled to nothing even if you have been cohabiting prior to death.

With no Will in place there may also be a need to set up statutory trusts of intestacy, which is very complicated and expensive.

How much does it cost to make a Will?

We have a fixed fee of:
Single Will – £135 including VAT
Joint (mirror) Will – £180 including VAT

Our fees are payable upon taking your instructions. We have a wide range of additional services available, and should additional work be required you will always be given a quote prior to us agreeing to go ahead.

How long does the process take?

An appointment to take instructions required to prepare your Will typically lasts for 1 hour. Following this, we will endeavour to send your Will within 28 days. Should you require your Will sooner we also offer a Fast Track Service for an additional charge.

Who can make a Will?

You may make a Will if you are over the age of 18 years and of sound mind, memory and judgement. You deal with your estate as you wish, however it must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses. People you have mentioned in your will and their spouses cannot be witnesses if you have specifically named them as beneficiaries.

Can I make my own Will?

Although you are entitled to write your own Will, you are strongly advised not to unless you possess the legal training to do so. Many problems can arise, simply from using incorrect terminology. Inevitably, any errors made will not be discovered until after your death, at which point it is too late to correct them. This can result in emotional distress and financial loss for your family, or worse the Will could be invalid altogether.

WSL are specialists, trained to take all of your assets into account, and recognise the pitfalls. Crucially, WSL also offer to regularly review your Will, keeping you informed of changes in the law and ensuring it is kept valid and up to date.

Can I make my will online?

There are many websites which offer will-writing services, however this is not advisable unless your Will is particularly straightforward. However you choose to write your Will, it must be kept in a safe and officially recognised storage facility, e.g with a Bank or Solicitor. Some banks also offer DIY will-writing services, whereby you are sent a form to complete and they will store it once completed, usually for a fee.

Do married couples need two Wills?

Yes, a Will is an individual document. A pair of similar or matching Wills which carry the same provisions are called a “Mirror Will”, and Will writers will normally provide this service at a discounted price. Getting married or remarried cancels a previously written Will, unless the Will clearly states otherwise.

What are Executors?

In making a Will, you must appoint someone who acts as the Administrator of your estate after your death. It is their responsibility to ascertain your assets at the time of your death, pay bills and funeral expenses and distribute your estate according to your instructions.

Anyone who is over the age of 18 and of sound mind is eligible. You may have a minimum of 1 executor and a maximum of 4. It is also important that they live in the UK, so do not appoint someone who normally resides abroad, or is likely to move abroad in the future. You may appoint a friend or family member, however you are advised not to appoint your spouse in case you should die together.

You also have the option to appoint a professional executor. This is advisable if you have particularly complex family or financial issues, for example if you have children from a previous marriage, or wish to exclude any family members from your Will.

Can an executor be a beneficiary of my will?

Yes, but they must not be a witness of your Will. Quite often the Executor is one of the main beneficiaries.

What is a beneficiary?

A beneficiary is someone whom you wish to benefit from your Will. You may make gifts of property or a specific sum of money, and you are free to benefit whomever you choose. You can also divide your estate into shares and leave a percentage to particular individuals, e.g “50% of my residuary estate to my two children…”

Can children under 18 inherit my Estate?

You may leave any part of your estate to a child, however they will not inherit until they reach the age of 18. The funds are held in a Trust, which becomes accessible when they reach this age. Prior to which, the Trustees decide how much of the estate may be used for the benefit of the child, e.g to pay school fees.

Should you wish your child to inherit at a later age, you can specify as such within your Will.

Guardians

If you have children under the age of 18 we strongly advise that you use your Will to officially appoint guardians in the event of your death. They will raise your children and provide for them financially. We understand that this can be one of the most difficult decisions you face when writing a Will, however this is the only opportunity to officially nominate someone. Failure to make the necessary appointment could result in a court making this decision for you.

When appointing Guardians it is important to remember:

  • You should appoint someone who is unlikely to be elderly or infirm by the time that your youngest child attains his or her majority.
  • You should always seek the Guardian’s consent before you consider appointing them.
  • If you are separated or divorced and the other parent has parental responsibility, the appointment for a Testamentary Guardian will not come into effect until the surviving parent dies.

You should also be aware, if a mother is not married to the child’s father, or the father’s name is not on the birth certificate, then the law does not give him any rights as a parent or guardian should the mother die first. The mother would need to appoint the father as the first chosen guardian within her Will.

What can I do to protect a disabled or vulnerable beneficiary?

If you wish to leave an inheritance to a vulnerable beneficiary they risk losing their state benefits until the money runs out. To protect them in the event of such, you can create a discretionary trust within your Will. A discretionary trust is when you appoint a Trustee, who is given the discretion to distribute the inheritance to your beneficiaries. The beneficiaries have the potential to inherit but not the right, and therefore a vulnerable beneficiary would not be required to declare the inheritance.
The trustee uses their discretion to make the funds available when required.

What does residue mean?

Your residue (or residuary estate) is the balance left over once all debts, funeral expenses, tax and gifts to beneficiaries have been deducted. Unless specified otherwise, your residue estate will be subject to the laws of intestacy. You need to decide who you would like to receive the balance of your estate. This is often your main beneficiary, although you can leave the residue to one person or a number or people in equal or unequal shares.

In order to ensure gifts to loved ones or charities keep up with inflation and do not lose their value over time, it is advisable to create a residuary legacy.

Should I create a trust?

Creating a trust is largely dependant on your individual circumstances. Trusts have been used for generations to protect vulnerable beneficiaries or the assets of your estate. The trustees which you appoint within your Will are responsible for managing the trust or property until it is inherited by your beneficiaries. Most recently trusts have been used as tax-planning tools, and although there have been some recent changes in Inheritance Tax Legislation, such discretionary trusts are considered by most experts as worth including in Wills for married couples.

Should I make specific legacies?

Gifts to beneficiaries can include items of sentimental value or heirlooms. They can also be specific amounts of money, otherwise known as a pecuniary legacy. These can be left to loved ones or a charity. You can index-link pecuniary or cash gifts ensuring that they keep their value over time.

If you choose to leave money to a charity, your solicitor will check it’s name, address and registered number to ensure your gift is received correctly. Gifts made to a charity could also reduce your tax burden. You could also avoid inheritance tax altogether by pledging to give everything above the Inheritance Tax threshold to charity.

What if I own foreign property?

Your Will allows you to clarify whether it applies to overseas property, or just those in the UK. Often a Will covers property worldwide, however some people prefer to use a Will to cover every jurisdiction.

If your affairs are particularly complex it is advisable to seek the advice of an overseas property specialist.

Why should I update my Will?

You can change your Will at any time, assuming you have the capacity to do so. WSL recommends that you review your Will every five years or after any major life event such as birth, death, marriage, registered civil partnership, divorce, separation, dissolution of a registered civil partnership or moving house.

Even factors outside of your control may give reason to update your Will, for example the rapid growth of house prices over recent years.

There are many other reasons to update your Will:

  • Marriage/divorce: all or part of your old Will will be invalid
  • Unstable marriage or partnership
  • Grandchildren grow older and couples/person wants to benefit them in their own right even if the “Residue” from the Will still passes to their parents.
  • Decision to raise the age at which children/grandchildren inherit the estate, because they are deemed unable to cope at 18.
  • Choice of Guardians needs amending – original appointments are no longer viable, or school requirements make local Guardians necessary.
  • Arrival of children makes appointment of Guardians necessary for the first time.
  • Need to assure housing situation of an adult child who has not left home or has unexpectedly returned.
  • About to go on holiday, especially long haul and/or imminent surgery/illness.
  • Maturity of child; leaving them a large amount of money might not be appropriate, so leaving funds in a Trust might be advisable.

Under our lifetime service, WSL will remind you on a regular basis as to when you need to review your Will, and you will be able to do so free of charge.

Does getting married affect my will?

Your Will is automatically revoked (cancelled) when you marry, and you will need to write a new one. If your Will was written “in contemplation of” the marriage, you can include a statement which specifically states it is not to be revoked by your intended marriage.

Does getting divorced affect my will?

Once divorced, your Will remains valid and will not be revoked. However, for the sole purpose of the Will, your former spouse is treated as deceased and therefore any gifts made to them or appointments as executor or trustee, become ineffective.

Can I cancel my will?

A Will is cancelled or revoked by any of the following:

  • If it is deliberately destroyed by you.
  • A subsequent will is prepared.
  • Marriage as a general rule can revoke a will.

Upon a divorce, the former spouse is treated as having died before you, and therefore any gifts made to them as a beneficiary would not be honoured. Even so it is advisable to review your Will every few years to ensure it is kept up to date.

Since I am married doesn’t my spouse get everything anyway?

Not necessarily. The government has capped the amount which your spouse will inherit, should you die without a Will. The remainder of your estate may be passed to your children, parents or other family members. A Will ensures financial support to the extent of your wishes.

I have lived with my partner for a long time. Won’t they automatically get everything anyway?

Unless you are married or joined in a civil partnership, the law of intestacy will make no provision for your partners.If you wish to provide for them financially, it is essential that you make a Will.

What about step children?

Only biological children and legally adopted children are provided for if you die without a Will. Any step-children you have will get nothing according to the rules of intestacy. A Will enables you to provide for anyone you wish.

What if my main beneficiary dies before me?

Although not compulsory, we would recommend that you provide for alternative beneficiaries in the event that your main beneficiary is not alive to receive the gift.

What should I take into account when I make gifts of money?

When dividing up your estate, it is wise to keep all gifts of money to small proportions. This is due to English Law whereby all such gifts are paid out first, which can be unfair to whomever is to receive what is left.

The value of your estate could also be worth considerably less upon your death, than when you made your Will. Therefore by gifting a small sum, they are unlikely to receive less than you had wished.

What should I think about when I make gifts of items?

We recommend that you keep the value of the gifts to a small proportion of your estate. It is important to remember that your beneficiary will have to pay the cost of transportation, which can be a considerable amount if the beneficiary lives overseas. It is also important to provide a detailed description of the item in question, to the extent that an independent person would be able to identify the item without question. You could even take a photo of the item, label accordingly and include within your Will for further clarification.

Will I have to pay Inheritance Tax?

As of April 2009, the amount you can leave before paying IHT (also known as the “Nil Rate Band”) was capped at £325,000. If you are married or joined in a civil partnership you can also use your partner’s Nil Rate Band, meaning you could therefore leave a total of £625,000 before IHT is payable. Anything above this amount is taxable at 40%. If you die without a Will a large amount of your estate will be lost thought IHT, which can easily be avoided.

What happens after I die?

WSL Ltd are able to act as executors of your estate should you wish. Unlike most Banks and Solicitors, who will also offer this service, if we are appointed to act alongside family members there is no obligation for them to utilise this service. We will always provide them with sound advice and guidance, without any commitment.

Where should I store my will?

By law you are able to store your Will wherever you choose. It is extremely important, however, that your Will is kept in a safe and secure place. Upon your death, you executor will need access to your Will as soon as possible, so it is also important that they know where it is being kept.

If you decide to store your Will with WSL, you will be sent a copy for safekeeping. Your Will is only accessible by you or your Executor. When the Will comes into force, your Executor will need to produce a Death Certificate in order for us to release the Will.

Do I need to tell anyone about my Will?

You are not required to tell anyone about the existence of a Will, however we would advise you to. It is especially wise to tell the executors of your Will, and keep a copy in a safe place for them to access when the time comes. We are able to store your Will for you should you wish.

When does the drafting of my will become legal?

In order to be legally binding, a Will must be signed, dated, and witnessed correctly. Once you have approved your Will, we will send you the final version to be signed, along with clear signing instructions. An incorrectly signed, dated, or witnessed Will will be invalid.

Who can be my witnesses?

Anyone over the age of 18, who is not a blood-relation, and not nominated within the Will as a beneficiary, executor or otherwise. Next door neighbours or work colleagues are often a good choice.

What areas do you cover?

Click here for a list of postcodes that we currently cover.

Will my personal details remain confidential?

WSL Ltd are registered under the Data Protection Act 1984, therefore all information disclosed to us will remain totally confidential.

Can Civil Partners have Mirror Wills drawn up?

Yes, a Civil Partnership is a legal entity and therefore the same Property Protection and Inheritance Tax rules apply as for a married couple.

Glossary

Administrator:
someone who is appointed by law to settle your affairs if you die without a Will.
Beneficiary:
a person or organisation who receives benefit from a Will or Trust.
Bequest:
a gift of an object or cash.
Chattels:
personal belongings like pictures, jewellery, cars and even pets.
Crown:
with no Will and no next of kin, the Crown inherits your Estate.
Domicile:
usually the country in which you live; however, if you or your parents were born outside England and Wales, or you intend to live permanently outside England and Wales, you should consider taking legal advice.
Estate:
the assets that you own which can be left under your Will, less any outstanding commitments. There are items which may not be left under your Will (see Joint Property). Most pension provisions are not assets which can be left under the terms of a Will or intestacy.
Executor:
a person or company named in a Will to administer your Estate and to be responsible for carrying out the terms of the Will and settling taxes and debts.
Funeral arrangements:
directions you can give in your Will regarding your wishes such as details of your burial, funeral services, etc.
Grant of Probate:
a document issued by the Court confirming both the validity of a Will and the Executor’s right to administer the Estate.
Inheritance Tax:
a 40% tax payable on larger Estates. (A legacy to a charity is free of Inheritance Tax).
Intestacy:
an Estate where there is no Will and the law directs who inherits.
Intestate:
not having a valid Will or a person who has not made a Will.
Issue:
this means your children, their children and so on all the way down the family tree.
Joint Property:
under English Law there are two methods of jointly owning property with another. Under a Beneficial Joint Tenancy the entire property passes to the survivor(s) upon death. Under a Tenancy in Common a person’s share of the property passes under the terms of his/her Will (or on his/her intestacy).
Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA):
A Lasting Power of Attorney is a type of Power of Attorney which remains effective even if the person who gives the power later loses their mental capacity.
Legacy:
a gift that you wish to leave to a person or organisation upon death.
Letters of Administration:
as for a Grant of Probate, but issued to an Administrator.
Minor:
a person under 18 years of age.
Mirror Will:

a Will that contains almost identical terms to your Will. Many husbands/wives/partners have Mirror Wills where they have decided upon the same beneficiaries, irrespective of which partner dies first.

Probate:
the legal process and the document issued to Executors authorising them to administer the Estate. If no Executor has been appointed in a Will then an Administrator is appointed.
Testate:
having a valid Will.
Testator (male)/Testatrix (female):
the person making the Will.
Trust:
a written arrangement whereby an appointed Trustee is given money or assets to hold and manage for the benefit of those defined in the Deed which created the Trust.
Trustee:
a company, or individuals, appointed in the Trust Deed to hold the Trust assets and to be responsible for the management of a Trust.
Will:
a written document, which when properly executed, controls how a person’s assets are to be dealt with after his/her death. If improperly executed the document may not constitute a Will.
Wills in expectation of marriage:
if you and your partner intend on getting married soon, your Will(s) can be made ‘in expectation of your marriage’ which means it/they will be valid before and after the marriage takes place. Marriage would otherwise cancel a Will.
Witness:
two witnesses must see you sign your Will and you must also watch both of them sign it. They must also watch each other sign the Will. No beneficiary (or their spouse) should sign the Will; if they do then any gift to them or their spouse will be invalid and fail.

To get started, call 0208 380 0333, email enquiries@wsl-ltd.co.uk or complete our web form.

To find out more about your options you can request our Free Guide to Wills. It covers all aspects of preparing a Will and answers all of your questions.

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