A client once said to me “where there’s a Will there’s a relative”. Whilst I’ve often found that to be the case, in my experience dying without a Will can have far more distressing consequences for your loved ones.
In the absence of a Will, the Intestacy Rules dictate who your assets pass to, and this might not always be to who you think; not having a Will in place could result in your loved ones not benefitting from your estate.
Many significant others are unable or have chosen not to marry or enter into civil partnership for a number of reasons, and often think they will be treated as “common law” spouses if they live together, but this isn’t the case. At present, if you die without a Will there is no protection for cohabiting partners under the Intestacy Rules. And if you’ve previously made a Will but since got married or entered a civil partnership, then any Will you had in place is no longer valid, unless specifically made in contemplation of your marriage or civil partnership.
Putting in place a Will allows you to:
Even if the Will you create provides in a similar way to the Intestacy Rules, it can give comfort to your nearest and dearest to see what you want in writing and to know they’re following your wishes.
Your Will is a fluid document that needs to be considered and updated regularly throughout your lifetime to make sure it fits your current circumstances.
I generally advise my clients to review their Wills at least every 5 years. But you should also do so if there’s been a change in family circumstances including births, deaths, marriages, divorces, the forming or dissolution of civil partnerships, or even if you’ve inherited from another family member or a friend. Buying a house with a partner, starting a new business and changes to Law (particularly Inheritance Tax rules) should also prompt a review of your Will.
Whilst your Will is automatically revoked on marriage or entering a civil partnership, this isn’t the case if you divorce or dissolve a civil partnership. Instead, any gifts to your former spouse or civil partner are cancelled, as well as their appointment as executor, but the rest of the Will remains valid. This may give an unintended result, so I’d recommend starting fresh with a new Will.
A professionally drafted Will may appear expensive on the face of it for a short document but could also save you money in the long run, and your loved ones heartache, compared to a cheaper option.
It’s very tempting to have a go yourself, with DIY Will packs available in shops seeming like a quick and easy alternative, and many services offering cheap Wills online. I would though strongly advise against being tempted to try these options and instead choose a properly regulated professional such as a Solicitor or a Member of the Institute of Will Writers.
There are a number of risks in attempting to make your own Will, and it’s easy to get it wrong without realising you’ve done so until it’s too late. Everything from ambiguous wording, to getting the Will incorrectly witnessed, and even your circumstances being more complex than you think can result in unintended consequences or a completely invalid Will.
Your Will is one of the most important documents you’ll ever have, and care should be taken to get it right. To ensure that it’s fit for purpose and does as you intend, legal advice is invaluable.
If I can help you with this or anything else including advice on Lasting Powers of Attorney and Estate Administration, please get in touch. I offer a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies to access bespoke advice based on your personal circumstances.
–Kirsty Limacher, Private Client Partner