Making a Will enables you to decide:
- who benefits from your Estate;
- what they receive from your Estate;
- who will be your executors; and
- who will be the guardians of your children.
If you do not make a Will, the law will determine who benefits from your Estate and what they will receive. See our notes on What if I don’t leave a Will. The answer may not be what you would expect it to be. Many people are surprised, even horrified, when they read this.
If you are unmarried and wish your partner to benefit from your Estate, this will only happen if you make a Will and you make your partner a beneficiary under it.
If you are married but are separated and do not want your spouse to benefit (or at least not benefit as much as they might otherwise do), you will need to make a Will based on advice from a divorce lawyer.
If you are divorced, your existing Will will be interpreted so as to exclude any reference to your former spouse. It is much better to make a new Will that makes no reference at all to your former spouse.
If you have been married before and now have a second family, you will need to make a Will to ensure that you strike the balance you wish to achieve between your first family and your second family.
If you are about to marry, you need to be aware that the moment you marry your existing Will is revoked or cancelled. The way round this can be to make a new Will before your wedding day which is expressed as being ‘in contemplation of marriage’ so that it will continue to be valid after your marriage and will not be cancelled as soon as you marry.
Making a Will may also enable you to organise your affairs in a legitimate manner that enables you to reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that may be payable on your Estate.
Why make a new Will?
The obvious answer is: when your existing one becomes out of date and no longer reflects your wishes. Some of the people mentioned in your existing Will may now have died. Children may now have grown up. Other children may have been born.
It may no longer be as important to you to see some people benefit from your Estate as it once was; but you may also now wish to benefit other people who were not mentioned in your existing Will.
Over time, your circumstances may well have changed and this may have a bearing on what it would be appropriate to say in your Will.
Everyone should review their Will every few years or when major changes occur in their lives.
It is not necessary to make a new Will simply because some of the people mentioned in it have changed their address.
When to make a Will?
The obvious answer is: before you die! And as none of us know when that will be, the best advice is to make it now; while you can. There is no time like the present. In fact when someone starts to think they ought to make a Will, that idea will probably niggle away at them until they actually get round to doing it.
It is important that someone who ought to make a Will is gently prompted to do so while they still have the necessary mental capacity.
Definitely find time to make your Will before you take part in hazardous sports or holidays!
Why ask a lawyer to prepare your Will?
Lawyers specialise in using words precisely and unambiguously. Your Will needs to be written in simple, clear and accurate English.
Lawyers can help you avoid leaving a Will
- that creates uncertainty; or
- that inadvertently upsets people you do not wish to upset; or
- that might be challenged through the Courts after your death.
What lawyers bring to the task of preparing a Will is a detailed background knowledge of the law. This can sometimes make a crucial difference. For example, if you own a property in joint names with another person and do so as ‘joint tenants’ then your Will will not be effective in passing your interest in the property to your chosen beneficiary (if this is someone other that the other joint owner) unless you first change the type of joint ownership from ‘joint tenants’ to ‘tenants in common’. See our notes on Joint Ownership.