News & Insights | 7th September 2020
8 Min Read
“Steady” Ed Headrick, toy maker and perfecter of the Frisbee, requested that his ashes be placed inside a limited run of Frisbees for his family and friends. In a similar vein, Fred Baur, inventor of the Pringles crisp tube stipulated that his cremated ashes had to be stored in, yes, you’ve guessed it one of his tubes.
Not all of us will want to leave behind such unusual requests but having a will should absolutely be an important part of everyone’s financial plans.
Simply put, establishing a legally valid will, and ensuring it remains up to date during your lifetime, is the only way to ensure your assets are distributed as you’d like them to be when you die. For this reason, we encourage everyone over the age of 18 to make one and review it on a regular basis. More often than not, it is a more straightforward process than many people expect.
I’ll show later that it doesn’t always have to be an expensive exercise either, indeed there are ways in which you can draw up a legally valid will through a regulated solicitor for free.
Yet, according to a recent YouGov survey, 60% of UK adults and 77% of co-habiting couples do not have a valid will in place.
Why make a will?
Having a legally valid and up to date will allows you to not only dictate to whom your assets will pass when you die, and on what terms, but also to choose who will administer your estate and ensure your assets pass on to your intended beneficiaries. For those with young children, it is also your chance to express your preference as to whom should act as legal guardian in the event of your death.
When someone dies without leaving a valid will, their assets are shared out according to certain set rules, known as the rules of intestacy.
Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy but, without a legally valid will in place, the deceased will have no control over to whom their assets pass, which can lead to long running family disputes and hefty legal costs.
The intestacy rules
A common misconception with the intestacy rules is that a person’s surviving spouse, civil partner or long-term unmarried partner will automatically inherit their entire estate on death, which is not always the case.
Indeed, where you are not married or in a civil partnership, your partner is not legally entitled to anything when you die. If you are married or in a civil partnership, depending on its value, your surviving spouse might inherit most, or all, of your estate and your children may not receive anything. This is true even if you are separated but not divorced. Should you pass-away with no living close relatives, your whole estate will pass to the Crown as ownerless property unless you have a valid will in place to say otherwise.
You can use the online tool on the GOV.UK website to work out who would inherit if you were to die intestate https://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will.
Whilst not always a primary concern, another important consideration is that not having a valid will in place could also mean a higher than expected inheritance tax liability being payable on your estate, which would have a knock-on effect on the amount your beneficiaries ultimately inherit.
Ways to write a legally valid will
It is worth noting that formal legal advice is not required to make a valid will, indeed you can write one yourself, provided the relevant criteria are met, but using a regulated solicitor should help ensure no potentially costly errors are made and should also give you the peace of mind that your will is going to do exactly what you want it to. It also offers you more protection in the event that anything goes wrong in future.
Dedicated will writing services have become more and more common over the last few years and can offer a good solution to those with particularly straightforward affairs, but it is worth noting that these are generally not regulated and don’t always provide the same protections as going through a solicitor.
This additional protection and expertise does come at a cost, and establishing a will through a solicitor in the conventional way is likely to cost you more than using an unregulated will writing service or indeed writing your will yourself.
That said, several well-known UK charities have partnered with participating law firms to offer more benevolent and cost-effective will writing options through regulated solicitors, which usually work on the basis that you will consider a charitable donation (either as a donation or a bequest in your will) instead of paying your solicitor for the work involved.
Charity will-writing initiatives available through solicitors
Three schemes are highlighted below, not all of these are available to everyone all year round and I should point out that this is by no means an exhaustive list, but they’re not a bad place to start.
1. Will Aid
The Will Aid scheme runs on an annual basis. Participating solicitors, of which there are currently around 500, will waive their fees for writing a basic will and instead invite you to make a voluntary donation to their partner charities, which include ActionAid, the British Red Cross and the NSPCC, amongst others. The suggested donations are £100 for a single basic will and £180 for a pair of basic “mirror” wills. You can also choose to leave a charitable gift in your will.
It is worth noting that the next Will Aid initiative will take place in November 2020. Appointments can be booked directly with participating solicitors, from September onwards, but please be aware that these are limited, work on a first come first served basis, and tend to book up quickly. If you are interested in participating in the next Will Aid programme, it would be best to register your details on the Will Aid website as soon as possible as this will notify you as soon as the online solicitor look-up service goes live. More details can be found on the Will Aid website https://www.willaid.org.uk/.
2. Free Wills Month
The Free Wills Month campaign runs in March and October each year and is a charity initiative specifically aimed at those aged 55 and over, although only one of you needs to be 55 or over if you are in a married couple seeking to establish basic mirror wills.
The initiative helps you establish or update a basic will through a participating solicitor, for free, on the basis that you will consider making a gift to one or more of its partner charities in your will. These charities include the British Heart Foundation, Mind, Breast Cancer Now and the Stroke Association, amongst others. It is worth noting that the areas participating in Free Wills Month change with each campaign and, in the same fashion as the Will Aid scheme, appointments fill-up quickly. If you are interested in participating in the next Free Wills Month, we would encourage you to register your interest on the Free Wills Month website https://freewillsmonth.org.uk/, as soon as possible, to ensure you are kept abreast of further announcements.
3. Cancer Research Free Will Service
Cancer Research UK also offers a basic will writing and updating service through its Free Will Service, in return for a gift to the charity. Through this service, you can choose to have your will written by a regulated solicitor and the campaign is open all year round, without being limited to any specific area. You can identify the details of participating solicitors by typing your post code into Cancer Research UK’s online tool at the following website https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/get-involved/leave-a-legacy-gift-in-your-will/free-will-service/find-a-solicitor.
Whilst these are all examples of initiatives which can help you draw up a legally valid will through a regulated solicitor, it is worth noting that they are specifically designed for those wishing to establish straightforward individual or mirror wills. With this in mind, those with complex estates may incur additional legal fees, depending on their requirements, and we would encourage you to discuss this with your solicitor to ensure you are clear before any work is undertaken.
However you choose to write or update your will, we would encourage you to do so through a regulated solicitor to ensure it is legally valid, reflective of your current wishes and watertight. If you can do so whilst simultaneously supporting some very worthy causes, so much the better.
Once you have found the means for creating your will, what you put into it is obviously at your discretion. At this time of huge government spending, give a thought though to the anonymous donor of 1928 who set up a fund of £500K to clear the UK’s national debt. Although now worth £500m, under the terms of the donor’s will, the so called “National Fund” must be left to accumulate until it is sufficient to pay off the UK’s national debt in full – only another £1.95trn or so to go!
It may not be everyone’s ambition to be thrown from one family generation to the next, to spend eternity in a crisp wrapper, or to pay off the national debt, but whatever yours may be, make sure you sort out a will sooner rather than later.