Tips for Making Your Will
Making a will for the first time? You might be wondering about the cost of making a will, how to prepare one and who will benefit.
If you would like a copy of these tips to be sent to you in a format that your charity can send out to its donors, please get in contact and we will be happy to send them to you.
Alistair Spencer sets out his top tips for what to consider when making a Will:
Work out what assets you own
The value of your assets and how those assets are held, for example in property, shares and so on, will determine whether your estate might be taxed on your death.
It is worth putting together a schedule of your assets and liabilities with at least approximate values, before attending a meeting with a legal professional to make a Will.
The legal professional will consider what tax relief might be available, and the most appropriate and tax-effective way of structuring your Will.
Remember, leaving charitable gifts in your will can have considerable tax benefits for your estate. As well as the gift itself being tax-free, charitable gifts can also reduce the amount of inheritance tax that the rest of your estate will pay. If you give at least 10% of your taxable estate to charity upon your death, the inheritance tax rate for the rest of your taxable estate reduces from 40% to 36%.
Keep your Will updated
Many people often forget to update their Will after a significant life event and risk the document not outlining what they want it to do.
Once you're married, any Will made prior to your wedding day will be automatically revoked - so if you do separate from your partner, changes need to take place to reflect the change in your circumstances.
It is not unusual to come across situations where an individual has passed away after divorcing but has failed to update their Will, resulting in their former partner still benefiting from their estate.
Life events or causes you are or become passionate about may also mean that you wish to change your will to leave a legacy to a chosen charity or charities.
Whatever the circumstances, it is expected that changes in a person’s testamentary wishes will occur throughout the course of their lives and it is important to review your will as life goes on.
Often, there is no requirement to make an entirely new will when you want to make a change. Providing you are still able to do so, changes to your will can often be made fairly simply.
Decide who will benefit from your will
Many Wills are disputed because family members are left shocked and angry by the contents once a loved one has passed away.
This can lead to costly disputes and the Will writer's decisions being scrutinised and potentially changed.
This is why, once you've written your Will, it is important that you communicate its contents with your family and friends to ensure there are no surprises down the line. If your will leaves legacies to specific friends or charities, let your close family know your reasons for wanting to make these gifts.
If the contents of the Will could be seen as potentially contentious, it is often advisable to prepare a letter of wishes to be kept with it, setting out why you have made the decisions you have in your Will and why certain people might be excluded.
Consider gifts to charities
Leaving money to charities can make such a huge difference, and can mean your money can have a long and positive legacy. There are also some tax advantages of giving money to charity, and in particular, a reduced rate of inheritance tax if you leave at least 10% of your net estate to charity.
Even a small legacy can make a difference!
Choose your executor
Executors are the individuals who will carry out the terms of your Will and sort out your estate when you die. An executor can also be a beneficiary of your Will.
They should be individuals you trust implicitly, must be over 18 at the time of your death and must be mentally capable of doing the job.
Ideally you should name more than one person to act as your executor, as this minimises the risk of both executors passing away before you. However, ensure as far as you can that the chosen executors will be able to work together.
You can also choose one or more substitute executors if the executors you have named are unwilling or unable to act.
It might be sensible to appoint at least one professional executor, although there will be costs associated with this.
Find two witnesses
Any witness should be independent, so they should not be a beneficiary of the Will or a spouse or civil partner of a beneficiary.
Any gift you make to the witness or to their spouse or civil partner will fail.
If you make your Will via legal professionals they will usually provide the independent witnesses.
You must have a minimum of two witnesses and they must both see you sign or acknowledge the Will in their presence before signing the Will themselves.
A recent announcement from the Government allows virtual witnessing of Wills from 31 January 2020 to 31 January 2022, or such other time period as the government may decide. The Will must still be physically signed by the witnesses and the person making the Will.
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Alistair specialises in contentious trusts and probate. He represents private individuals, charities and trustees in a wide range of matters.