Why make a Will?
The best reason is to achieve certainty of who will benefit from your Estate and to take the last opportunity to ensure your affairs are settled as you want and without any unnecessary fuss or expense.
An expertly-worded and carefully drafted Will can save thousands of pounds of tax and make sure those who would be automatically entitled to receive your Estate on death don't end up disinheriting your preferred beneficiaries.
Most simple Wills are divided up into a number of recognisable sections:
Most Wills start with a confirmation clause that makes it clear that this Will is the last one and that all previous Wills are revoked (cancelled).
Appointment of Executors:
Whilst it is not essential (if there is no appointment of executors the Will will still be valid but there will need to be an additional process before someone can be appointed from a statutory list of those entitled to apply for probate) most Wills then appoint one or two trusted people to be "Executors" (those who execute or administer the Will) - we normally recommend that will-writers appoint one or more of their principal residuary beneficiaries as executors - this means that anyone appointed has a vested interest in getting on with the process of administering your estate so they can get to the point where they get their share as quickly as possible. We also suggest that you pay attention to the practicalities. If you are in your thirties it is more sense to think of someone who is likely to survive you rather than appointing great great uncle Bulgaria who is 98.
Some Wills then list items you want to give to people in specie ("things" as distinct from money - so I leave my son Billy my grandfather clock)
Some Wills then list money gifts (for example "£1,000 to the Vicar and Churchwardens to expend on the maintenance and repair of the fabric of the parish church of All Saints")
Then the most important part of most Wills the provisions for what happens to the bulk of the estate
This is what deals with the rest of the estate. These clauses often deal with shares in residue as the amount is not specified but rather the proportions to be shared between the residuary beneficiaries. It is very common that there may be one or more layer of "what-ifs" - for example "if my wife survives me then I leave my residuary estate to her absolutely but if she shall have died before me then I leave my residuary estate to my trustees upon trust for such of my children as shall survive me and if more than one in equal shares absolutely".
By using the right clauses you can allow for any combination of events - for example we commonly use clauses designed to allow for additional children or grandchildren who may come along after the date of the Will and to cope with unexpected events, like the unexpected death of a younger beneficiary before an older one.
The importance of estate planning:
All of these simple provisions are common but the planning of your estate is every bit as important as the choice of words. This is really where expert advice can make a significant difference to what your beneficiaries will inherit - some testators have special interests to take into account - for example a farmer may have special inheritance tax allowances available to him or her which will not be available to their non-farming spouse - provisions for disabled beneficiaries need to be very carefully made so as to ensure private provision doesn't just replace or invalidate benefits and takes account of any onwards provisions tax-effectively.
Working out who gets what is always a tricky conundrum and whilst we can give you the benefit of our advice we leave those final decisions to you.
Why use a solicitor?
Most stationers sell Will-making forms with a string of instructions. if you are feeling brave then go for it, but be warned that one word out of place or the incorrect use of a technical term may invalidate your Will or, worse, disinherit your chosen beneficiaries.
We like to illustrate a simple pitfall:
If you have two gold watches (and one son) leaving a Will which says "I leave my gold watch to my son" will not end up with your son receiving either watch (you didn't say which one or make it clear in your wording which watch you intend your son to have so your executors duty to the residuary beneficiaries will be to sell both watches and hand them the sale proceeds). In the same example if you had no gold watches (and still one son) and you say "I leave a gold watch to my son" then your executors will have the duty to go out and buy one for him.
This often seems unfair but if you remember that any specific or pecuniary legacies reduce the value of what goes to the residuary beneficiaries and take our first example and then we add in the information that one of those two watches is a Waltham Mass 9ct gold mass-produced half-hunter (worth maybe £300) and the other is a vintage Patek Phillipe "grand complication" (worth maybe £400,000) you can see that the residuary beneficiaries will be very upset if the executors decided to give your son the Patek Phillipe and very happy if they decided to give the Waltham one.
If you want to make a Will or need estate planning advice please contact Nick Fluck; Julia Thompson or James Buxton via our contacts links