A recent Which? Legal survey [23 June 2018] has revealed that most people in England are at risk of not having their final wishes respected because they don’t have a will.
The consumer organisation’s research shows the only 47% of people in the South West have a will in place.
“That comes as no surprise,” says assistant solicitor Kearney Coffin who works in the Wills and Probate department of Curtis Whiteford Crocker.
Which? Legal says that most people wait until, on average, the age of 47 before putting a will in place with 20% or respondents saying writing a will “had not occurred” to them.
“Many people are putting off doing their Wills and lots of clients tell me how relieved they are when they finally get around to it,” says Kearney. It’s always something they’ve been meaning to do but they have their reasons for not doing it. For younger people, it is might be something they haven’t got round to or think they won’t need to worry until later life . Other people may think they don’t need a Will because they don’t think they a valuable enough estate or there won’t be an Inheritance Tax issue, but with the value of property going up you might be surprised at the value of even a simple estate. Others might think the automatic rules of intestacy are enough and there is no point in preparing a Will.
The complicated nature of modern family relationships also makes it important to give clear instructions in a will.
“Parents might be divorced, or separated; a person might be on their second or third marriage; there could be children and stepchildren. There are a lot more complex family structures,” says Kearney.
“Having a will in place gives clarity as well as peace of mind on personal issues as well as legal. It might be about the funeral, someone expressing a wish to be cremated. Or a specific bequest to a particular individual. Sometimes a specific item will have more sentimental ‘value’ than a lump sum of money. Preparing a will to include these personal touches can mean so much to your loved ones instead of leaving them with automatic rules only.
“Most importantly, wills and probate is part of a very traditional law system which doesn’t recognise longterm cohabiting partners automatically so it is vital if you want to choose who should inherit from you that you make your wishes legally binding. A letter of wishes is not enough. When it comes to ‘common law marriage’, in the law there is no such thing and not preparing a Will can result in a claim being made against your estate., which can be a really onerous and unpleasant experience for all involved.
As well as preparing wills and managing probate, Kearney and the team at Curtis Whiteford Crocker are also involved in estate and tax planning. Many people believe that, if they die intestate – without a valid will – their money simply goes to the government.
“That’s much rarer than you think,” explains Kearney. “The Treasury is at the bottom of a very long list under the rules of intestacy. It could go to parents, whole brothers and sisters, half brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles first and other relatives before it would go to the goverment. Many people are just as disgusted to think a distant family member they may not know could inherit their estate!
“I tell people they need a Plan A, B, C and maybe even D. You even need to consider what happens if there is an awful family tragedy when everyone is on holiday.
“Once you’ve made your will, you need to review it every couple of years,” says Kearney. “It’s amazing how many people don’t realise the impact of marriage and divorce on a will. When you marry, an existing will is automatically revoked. There also might be changes in the law, or government policy which affect a will. It can be very complex, so it’s important to get the right advice and do it properly.”