Why Every Parent Should Have a Will – And How to Make One

Though it's a difficult topic, it can ensure the security of your children.
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Two mature women hugging each other. Elegantly dressed. Woman psychologist practicing with patient women. Coach session between girlfriends.

Speaking about death is never easy. It’s one of those things that you don’t really think about day-to-day and it’s especially hard to think about leaving your little ones behind.

But if the worst was to happen, parents need to ensure their children’s futures are somewhat secure. Yet 56% of parents with children under the age of 18 have not got a will in place.

Even if you’re a young parent, solicitor Matthew Hutton, author of Your Last Gift: Getting Your Affairs in Order says you should be thinking about writing your will.

He says it’s the best way to ensure that your children under 18 are looked after by the guardian of your choosing, if you or your partner with parental responsibility, die.

Without a will, often courts end up having to decide who will look after the child.

Matthew says: “If you’re co-habiting and parenting with someone to whom you’re not married or in a civil partnership with, and you die, they won’t be entitled to any of your estate (money, property or possessions) if you don’t make a will, which could leave them at risk of financial deprivation as they raise your children following your death.

“There are 3.6 million cohabiting families in the UK, and they are the fastest growing family type, so it’s well worth making sure that the partner you might leave behind has everything they need, financially and practically, to care for the kids.”

A will would ensure your children inherit what you want them to inherit. It’s also the easiest way of ensuring that anything you want your children to inherit after your death - whether that’s money or possessions or property - actually becomes theirs in adulthood, explains Matthew.

How much does it cost to make a will?

Ideally, Matthew advises to instruct a solicitor as they can oversee your will and make sure everything is done correctly. This can cost as little as £150 if no tax planning is required.

However, there are also a variety of websites from which you can create a simple will, for a fraction of the cost.

Alongside this, you will need two witnesses from what is referred to as “disinterested individuals”. These are people that cannot benefit from the will. They do not need to read the will, all they need to do is confirm the signature is yours.

How do I make a will?

1. In writing, you state your full name and address, revoking all former wills and stating that it is the Law of England and Wales which applies.

2. You say whether you wish your body to be buried or cremated. Whichever you choose, specify where in the case of a burial and with a cremation where you might like your ashes to be scattered. Equally, the place can be specified in a Letter of Wishes (which is easier to change).

3. You appoint one or more individuals as your Executor(s), giving their name and address.Your Executors are the people legally responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will. Ask the person first if they are prepared to be an Executor, as it can be quite a time consuming task, and not everyone can manage it.

Matthew says choosing your Executors is a serious decision. A spouse/partner might be your first choice, or a close relative or friend. Whoever you choose, they should be people you trust, and who know you and your family. He advises against choosing a firm of solicitors or a bank as Executors.

4. You will need to take an inventory of your assets (property, money or possessions of worth) and your liabilities (for example, debts such as mortgages or loans), so that you know what percentage of your estate is yours to hand down, and what percentage will be used to pay off what you owe.

‘Bequests’ are gifts of certain types of property – perhaps jewellery, pictures, a collection you have built up over your lifetime or even a house or flat. You will want to state that any gift of cash or other property will be free of tax; the burden of any Inheritance Tax will fall on ‘what is left’ in the Estate - the ‘residue’. As a practical suggestion, if you have any children or indeed grandchildren, you might like to mention each of them as the recipient of one or more things which you have specifically chosen for them.

There could be cash gifts or legacies to named individuals or charities.

5. If you have young children, you will want to appoint their Guardians.

6. Alongside your will, you may also wish to write (and from time to time, update), one or more ‘Letters of Wishes’. Letters of Wishes give more guidance and context to your Executors when it comes to carrying out the instructions in your will.

For example, a Letter of Wishes may contain funeral details, instructions around children, and more in-depth explanations around why you have why you have left certain things to certain people. A Letter of Wishes is much more informal than a will, both in terms of being easier to change and the fact that you don’t have to have it witnessed. However, for the sake of certainty, you so keep your Letter of Wishes alongside your will.

So there you have it, though the topic can seem overwhelming, ensuring your child is cared for after your death could be the best thing you do for them.