When Jill Dando was murdered, it was widely reported she hadn’t made a will. So under the rules used for those without a will, her estate passed to her elderly father instead of her fiancé. And because there was no will, and therefore no tax planning, the inheritance tax bill came to around £587,000. A sum which could have been drastically reduced with a little planning.

It isn’t just the rich and famous though who should have a will in place. It’s something which should concern us all. Nia Wharry, Wills and Estate planning partner at QualitySolicitors Clarke and Son explains how having a will is just as important for you as it is for those you leave behind.

Why make a will?

The only way you can be sure your wishes will be carried out as you wanted them is to make a will. This not only gives you the opportunity to say who your estate and any specific gifts go to, but also the chance to include friends, carers, charities and state what provisions should be made for any children or pets. All of which would be overlooked if you didn’t have a will.

If you don’t have a will when you die your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. These are a complex set of rules that dictate which family members can inherit from your estate. According to these rules if you’re not married to your partner they’ll get nothing.

In very basic terms, this is how the intestacy rules work – if your total estate is worth less than £250,000 and you’re married or in a civil partnership, the entire estate will go to your spouse – even if you’re separated. If you’re not married the estate will be distributed as follows:

  • To your children in equal shares, or to their children if they have died.
  • If you have no children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, then to your parents.
  • If you have no surviving parents, then to your brothers and sisters, or their children if they have died.
  • If none of the above, then to any surviving grandparents.
  • If you have no grandparents, then to your aunts and uncles, or their children if they have died.
  • If none of the above, the full estate will go to the Crown, meaning no one you care about or know will benefit from your inheritance.

If your estate is worth over £250,000, the first £250,000 will go to your spouse, the remainder will be split to benefit other family members, following the same rules as above.

The rules of intestacy are complex and will vary depending on your circumstances. If you are administering the estate of a loved one, who had no will, you may find it helpful to speak with a solicitor.

In your will you’ll need to nominate an executor, to take legal responsibility after your death for all the paperwork involved, including getting the necessary probate, paying off any debts and distributing the remaining assets according to your wishes. If you don’t have a will, someone will instead be appointed to do this (usually your next of kin) and possibly not the person you would choose to take this on for you.

To ensure your will is legally valid you should have it written by a solicitor, who’ll ensure the correct wording is used and it’s properly signed and witnessed.

Whilst it is a difficult and expensive process, a will can be disputed, so it’s always worth ensuring it’s as watertight as possible. In England and Wales there are typically three grounds for challenging a will:

  1. Someone who was financially dependent on you at the time of your death, believes that sufficient provision was not made for them. This could be your child or even cohabiting partner.
  2. You made your will under the influence or pressure of others, so were coerced into making the decisions you made.
  3. You lacked the mental capacity to make the will or the knowledge required to approve its contents. This could be because of mental or physical illness.

That’s the difference a will makes

The good news is – the heartache, hassle and expense for those you leave behind can be significantly reduced, just by having a legally valid will in place. To find out more about getting a will or handling a loved one’s affairs after their death, you should take legal advice. At QualitySolicitors we provide a Free First Advice service, so you can call us for a chat to find out more.

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