It's an alarming fact that two thirds of people in the UK haven't made a will. This could be through superstition, wrongly believing that things will be dealt with as they wish or because they assume they have plenty of time to deal with making a will. The sad fact is that many people die intestate - without a will - and their estate is not distributed as they would want it to be.
The Rules of Intestacy are an old piece of English law that determines who inherits your estate; it doesn't recognise girlfriends/boyfriends, fiancés, common law or cohabiting partners, friends or charities. It follows your strict blood line and doesn't take into account the relatives of a spouse or partner. So, for example, Mr X dies and everything passes to Mrs X, on her death under intestacy the entire estate passes to Mrs X's family, which could be a long estranged brother!
A common misconception for married couples is the belief that when one dies without a will everything passes to the other. This isn't true. Only the first £450,000 (or only £250,000 if they have children) will pass outright to the survivor. This could lead to the survivor having to sell the house they shared.
So it's extremely important to make a will and ensure that the will you make is the most appropriate one for your circumstances. A simple straightforward will where Mr A gives everything to Mrs A and then to their children may be the most appropriate will for them, whereas the same will for Mr B and Miss C (unmarried) may lead to an additional inheritance bill of £130,000. It is therefore important to research your options or take advice.
Wills can include trusts, either to protect beneficiaries or protect and preserve assets or to save inheritance tax. A will needs to be in writing and needs to clearly set out your wishes. It then needs to be signed by you and witnessed by two independent people - they must not be in the will or closely related to anyone in the will.
There is no need to have the will legally or professionally prepared however this may be advisable, particularly if your circumstances are more complex. If you do decide to seek professional help it is important to ensure that the person you have paid is appropriately qualified and has the necessary insurance in place should something go wrong. Solicitors are regulated by the Law Society and must have insurance in place to rectify the damage if something goes wrong with the will. We've all heard the horror stories of bogus will writers who close business taking the Wills with them, never to be seen again.
Your will should be amended regularly to reflect your changing circumstances - if you marry, have children, move house, get divorced or have a change in financial circumstances - like you suddenly come into some money!
A will is the only sure way of making sure the people you want get what you want them to have. Don't put it off until it is too late, and once it's done we find people always feel a sense of calm.