Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult experience and unfortunately it doesn’t tend to get any easier, no matter how old you are/how well you try to prepare/how many times you’ve been through it before.
It makes sense, then, that most of us would rather do just about anything than have a serious discussion about popping our clogs. But! Before you stick your fingers in your ears and start loudly humming, please listen to us sensible-solicitor types when we tell you that it really is important to talk about these things.
Now, we know this might be a big ask and we’re not suggesting you make a standing appointment to discuss funeral arrangements with the neighbours every Thursday afternoon. What we are suggesting is that you get in touch with a solicitor and prepare to get right down into the nitty gritty of it all… just for long enough to make sure you have all your metaphorical affairs in literal order.
Why do you need to make a will?
If we can be said to have learnt anything at all in the last year, it’s got to be that life can be incredibly unpredictable. Case in point: at the end of 2019, very few of us could have imagined the lockdown we’d be facing just a few months later.
And just like world-disrupting viruses can pop up when we least expect it, so can all manner of other plagues, diseases and freak accidents. (Aren’t we cheerful today?!) Though we’d all like to imagine we’re invincible thank-you-very-much, the rather inconvenient truth is that we are not.
And this, dear readers, is why the humble will is such a vital bit of legal paperwork. In the event that the worst happens, a valid will makes sure that your assets end up with the people you would want to have them. This would mean that the care of your children and pets would be carried out as you’d planned, that your property would pass to the person you would wish to own it and that your money would be distributed in the way you think best.
…but what if you don’t make one?
If you’re the kind of person who can never really see the point of paying for insurance, we suspect you might feel a bit reluctant to shell out for a professionally-written will. Sure, it’s not much fun to invest time and money into a bit of paper that will hopefully never have a purpose. But isn’t that the point, really? You sign on the dotted line and pay the fee in the hope you never have to benefit?
Of course, we’re not going to get on our high horses here and claim that a will can solve everything. If you were to unexpectedly croak it, it would undoubtedly be awful for everyone involved. What we can say, though, is that having a valid will in place makes sure a horrible situation doesn’t get even more horrible.
Sadly, in many cases where there has been an unexpected death, the people who are left behind also find themselves embroiled in complicated legal situations which throw their home and their finances into uncertainty. The last thing anyone would want while having to deal with the death of someone close to them would be to have to start worrying about whether they’ll be granted the money and financial security they believe themselves entitled to.
What are intestacy laws when they’re at home?
Some people think they don’t need to make a will because the law will automatically award their money and property to their loved ones. These laws are called intestacy laws.
Intestacy laws are the laws that govern what happens to a person’s estate (that’s legalese for money, property and belongings) if they happen to die without having a valid will in place. According to these laws, the estate (provided it’s under a specified value) would pass to the closest legal relative, usually a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or sibling.
In other words, these laws exist to cover straight-forward scenarios and text-book circumstances. The problem is… we don’t all live straight-forward and text-book lives.
There are all sorts of reasons why you might not want your estate to pass straight on to your spouse or child. Perhaps you and your family members are estranged, perhaps you have a complicated relationship or perhaps they’re absolutely hopeless with money and you worry they might blow it all on a day at the horses.
It’s also important to note that unmarried partners would not qualify to receive any inheritance under intestacy laws, and nor would any step children. And if that wasn’t warning enough, we’ll also throw in a handy reminder here that intestacy laws won’t handle any trust arrangements for you or determine who should take over the guardianship of your children.
So what can you do about it?
We’re circling right back now to our original point; it really is important to make a will. Not making a will can lead to confusion and complications for your loved ones at best, and lengthy court cases at worst.
It might help to think of writing a will as covering all your bases. This is important for everyone, but it’s even more important if your life and family set up does not conform to what the intestacy laws consider ‘the norm.’
You definitely fall into this camp if you have a blended family. Writing a will gives you the opportunity to make sure your assets are split in a way you consider fair. This would mean you could make sure your current spouse or partner was provided for, as were all your children, no matter whether they were of the biological or step variety. You could even include any ex-partners and ex-step children, if you were so inclined.
This also applies to you if you have your own business or ownership in a family business. The transfer of this kind of asset can be delicate and complicated: you don’t want that to be left up to the government’s one-size-fits-all rules. Taking the time to write a professional will can help to protect the legacy of your business.
Finally, owning property is also a big consideration here, especially if this is in terms of anything other than joint ownership between you and your spouse or partner. You can refresh your memory with our primer here, but basically you only have the right to leave your share of your property to anyone you fancy if you own your property as tenants in common. If you own your property jointly, your share would automatically pass to your joint owner in the event of you kicking the bucket.
Whatever your situation, we’re on hand to help untangle the situation and get your will down in plain language no one can argue with. Please do get in touch for a chat about how we can help get all your affairs in order (though, of course, if your affairs are of the extra-marital type, we can’t promise to be quite so hands on).