Gill Bowskill is Director of Wills, Trusts and Probate at QualitySolicitors Talbots.
Whatever your stage of life, Gill’s got some top tips to help you navigate the Will-making process.
Think about your shared assets: Newlyweds often underestimate the need for a Will, feeling like they don’t have enough assets or responsibilities like children to make it worthwhile – especially after the expense of a wedding and honeymoon! It is a good idea to sit down with your new husband/wife and list your personal possessions, everything from the car to record collections, and outline what you want to happen them should the worst happen.
Decide if you are tenants in common or joint tenants: This seems like a small point but it is an important one to be clear about when it comes to property ownership and Wills. Joint tenants both own the entire property. So were your partner to die, the property automatically passes to you due to the right of survivorship. In a tenancy in common, instead of automatically passing to their partner, the deceased’s Will determines what happens to their share of the property meaning the surviving spouse may be forced to sell.
Secure your spouse’s future: If one partner dies, the law states that the remaining spouse will inherit the entire estate if there are any surviving children for properties up to the value of £250,000. If a property is worth more than this, in the absence of a Will the property could be divided between the spouse and the rest of the family, which may not reflect your wishes.
Decide who you would entrust your business to: As an entrepreneur, you have created a business that has trading value and unique intellectual property. Who would you entrust to look after this and continue your business on your death? In wanting your family to be financially secure, you may decide it best to leave your business assets to a business partner with clear instruction to distribute profits.
Protect your family from business debt: Your Will should document your succession strategy to ensure there is no ambiguity around whether your family or business is responsible for any future debts or arrears. Without the proper protection in place, your family could become financially liable if, for example, the future business owner runs the company into the ground.
Understand the difference between a trustee and a guardian: As parents, in your Will you need to state who you want to bring up your child upon your death. However, you also will need to appoint someone to be a trustee, who will manage the distribution of your funds. These don’t have to be the same people. If you are a young parent you may want one of your siblings to have the duty of being your child’s guardian, but look to an older, more experienced family member to be a trustee.
Keep your Will up to date: It’s an unfortunate fact that over one in three marriages ends in divorce. If you have separated from your child’s mother / father, make sure that your Will reflects your most current circumstances. Work with your legal representative and ex-partner to ensure there is consistency in terms of who the agreed guardians and trustees of children are. Any ambiguity around this could bring your children into distressing legal disputes in the event of a sudden death.
Document maintenance payments: You may have an ex-wife/husband who still lives at the marital home with your children. Documenting your maintenance contributions in your Will creates a financial record of your regular payments. In doing so, it is clear to all parties what your annual contribution to the former family home is. This will help reduce the likelihood of conflict between your current and former partners.
Consider setting up a trust if you have multiple children from different relationships: If you have children from a previous relationship, it is imperative that there is no ambiguity in your Will. There are likely to be three (or more) parties involved in such estates; your own wider family, your former spouse(s) who you had children with and your current or subsequent wife/husband. In these complex situations, setting up a trust within a Will can help provide clarity on your children’s right to access your property after your time.