We all know the importance of a will and having one in place at the time of our death, but surprisingly just 41% of adults in the UK have bothered to make one.
Often it is the experience of a serious illness or family bereavement later in life which prompts us to make the effort, but experts say we should start thinking about it much earlier.
Research by Opinium in 2017 found that only 16% of those aged between 25 and 34 and 26% of those aged between 35 and 44 had drawn up their wills. But both are crucial age groups where we are likely to experience major changes in our lives leading to increased responsibility.
They are the times in our lives where we think of settling down with our partner and raising a family and also the time when we are likely to be taking on a mortgage and other hefty financial arrangements.
Without a will in place you have no control over what happens to your finances in the event of an untimely death. Dying intestate – without a will – means the State will take over and decide how your assets will be distributed, which may not be at all what you wanted.
For example, if a couple are unmarried, regardless of how long they have been together, the surviving partner is not automatically guaranteed to inherit anything.
Having a will in place provides much needed clarity and certainty at a highly emotional time. It will also help to avoid length delays in resolving financial matters.
Reasons to make a will
There are five main reasons to make a will sooner rather than later:
- Having children
- Buying or owning a property
- Marriage and divorce
The will clearly states the wishes of the deceased person and controls the way their loved ones are looked after. It can also allow for even complex instructions about the estate distribution to be followed to achieve the required outcome.
Apart from financial considerations, a will can be used to secure the future of children. There is the crucial decision of appointing a guardian to look after them if both parents die before the children reach the age of 18. If there is no nominated guardian, the State will decide who cares for the children. Another consideration is placing their inheritance in trust until reaching the age of majority.
Unlike married couples or civil partners, there is no automatic provision made for people simply co-habiting, even if they have children. Both parties should make a will and specify what they would like their partner to inherit when they die. Without a will the estate could be split between other family members, leaving the partner with nothing.
What happens to the family home may not be as simple as it at first seems – it all depends of the type of tenancy. The options are: sole tenant, joint tenancy or tenants in common.
If the house is owned as a joint tenancy it will automatically pass to the surviving partner, but in the case of sole tenants or tenants in common a will is required to specify exactly what should happen to the property. This can be particularly important in the case of second and/or step families where home ownership may not be joint even if the couple have spent many years together.
If a will is in place getting married or divorced are important times to review the terms of the document. While an ex-spouse may not receive anything they might still be named as an executor, giving them control over what happens. Getting married could mean you want to change your beneficiaries and other terms of the will, particularly if it is a second marriage with children from both relationships to consider. Keeping a will up to date is essential to avoid any potential family disputes.
All too easy
Experts are agreed that the modern pace of life makes it all too easy to put off decisions like making a will, but they are also agreed that having one in place removes potential confusion and replaces it with clarity and certainty that the wishes of the deceased are being followed.