Now that the Tax madness which seems to accompany every January has abated, it is time to look at what happens when the other certainty in life gets us. Taxes get us regularly, but the other, Death, fortunately only gets us once.
The statement of our last wishes, and how we would like our earthly property to be distributed, is known as a “Last Will and Testament”, or Will for short.
This topic has been mentioned quite regularly on recent editions of Breakfast Television and of course highlighted every day by the BBC program Heir Hunters[private_basic]. Why is that? Simply because few people like to even consider the possibility that they might die, and fewer still are willing to talk about this and actually put pen to paper to make arrangements for it.
In my time I have been executor to a number of estates. The last one being my own dear Mum last July. In each of those cases there has been a vaild will and the task of sorting the estates according to the will has been relatively straight forward. At the last probate interview I attended I asked the very helpful lady if things were this straight forward if there had been no will and she laughed. No way! was the answer.
If you die without a will (intestate) then there are strict legal guidelines for the distribution of the estate and if the rightful heirs (relatives) under those guidelines cannot easily be found, the money simply drops into the government coffers. Is this right? – No. Is this moral? – No but is is legal? – Yes. That is why Heir Hunters will try their hardest to find relatives of intestate people so that the money can be divided between the Heir Hunters and the relatives who didn’t know they were entitled. Did you really think the Heir Hunters work for love? Mind you, I am of the opinion that if you don’t keep in touch with your family when you are alive, why should those people be entitled to your money when you die. But that is a bit contentious – not as much as why I feel the government shouldn’t get their dirty, grasping, incompetent hands on it – but that is another post (in the run up to the inevitable election in May).
So, the simplist thing is to make a will. They are not difficult to do and only require a small amount of time to get drawn up and formalized. The costs are small but the peace of mind you get knowing that your money is going to go exactly where you want it to go, and not where the law says it must, is simply priceless.
Over the next week or so I will be adding a page to this site offering a Will service. I have been studying the law, speaking to the Probate Office and looking at wills that are valid – and why others, that look perfectly acceptable, are not valid and will fail.
There is a tendancy to think that only a Solicitor can draw up a valid will but that is not the case. They can of course and they will charge. You may also be offered a free one by your Bank or Union, but check the small print and never allow the provider of a “free” will to act as executor. Why? Because an executor can legally charge for their services under a will – so they get their pound of flesh for making the will later – and you can bet it will cost the estate a lot of money – certainly much more than I will charge you for drawing up the will. The other downside of having a Solicitor or Bank act as executor, if cost doesn’t frighten you enough, is that they have no incentive to wind up your estate quickly with the minimum cost. I have a client at the moment who has a Solicitor involved in an estate and we are entering the 5th year since his Dad died. The final cost has yet to be known and transfers of land have not yet been done.
So I will be offering a will preparation service shortly. The cost for a basic will should be around £75+VAT and you will be able to alter them at any time in the future for a minimal fee. Additionally, a copy of your will stays here for safe keeping but you keep the original bound version safe wherever you choose.
Remember that a will becomes invalid if you divorce or remarry. In your will you make guardian arrangements for any children under 18 (how many parents don’t even do that?), you specify exactly where your money is to go and there will be little your relatives can do if they don’t agree with your bequests.
Finally, you need to update your will regularly. Your life changes year by year and in the same way, your will is a living thing until you die. This is something many people are loath to do because a Solicitor charges for a new will each time a change is made. I won’t do that. I would rather charge a minimal fee (just to cover the reprinting and rebinding cost – all wills are going to be kept digitally just in anticipation of this) for any changes than put people off altering their will as their life changes and evolves.
So you no longer have any reason to put off making a will. Contact me as soon as possible and let us give you that final peace of mind that once you are gone, your legacies will be handled as you intended.