Wills are incredibly important documents, yet only 35% of adults in the UK have a will in place. So, who needs a will?
Firstly, it doesn’t matter how old or young you are. If you have assets that you want to be passed on to someone when you die, you need a will. ‘Assets’ includes property, money, or possessions.
We know it can be unpleasant to be faced with your own mortality. But the fact is that we all pass away one day. Having a will ensures your wishes will be carried out as you want them to be when the time comes. Even better if you reviewed and update it regularly.
Splitting your assets fairly between multiple people can also get complicated, especially in a case where you have two children but one of them moved in to care for you. Maybe your house was initially going to be split 50/50 between your children, but now you want to show your appreciation to the one that moved in to care for you, especially if they sold their own home to do so.
In cases like these, we recommend consulting a solicitor to ensure your wishes are carried out fairly and completely. Because it’s not straightforward and you won’t be around to fix it if something goes wrong.
So, let’s look at what wills are and what should be included in them. As well as how inheritance laws work in the UK, and whether you should seek legal advice when writing a will.
What is a will?
A will is a document that lets you decide who gets your property, possessions, and money after you die.
Our advice is to think of your will as a ‘living document’. It’s not something you write once and consider it ‘done’ because life changes – both for good and for bad. You may end up with more or less money, or in better or worse health. Your circumstances may change in any number of other ways. Your will therefore needs to change as your life changes over time.
Do I need a will?
Ultimately, it’s up to you. But if you have money, possessions, or property that you want to go to specific people when you die, it’s best to have one in place.
Below we’ll talk about what happens if you don’t have a will, including if you aren’t married or in a civil partnership.
What can happen if I don’t have a will?
If you don’t have a will the law will decide who gets everything you own.
Say you have strong feelings about who you do or don’t want to inherit. Or what you want to go to whom. The only way to ensure these wishes are carried out is to state them clearly in your will.
This becomes especially important if you aren’t in a marriage or civil partnership. Under current UK ‘intestate’ laws, your partner won’t inherit from you automatically.
‘Intestate’ refers to dying without a will – either because a will isn’t in place or because it is invalid.
Here’s how the family inheritance works according to the law, as Legal and General explain:
- If you’re unmarried and have children, they will inherit the entire estate on their 18th birthday, with equal shares if there is more than one child. Grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit the share if the children are deceased.
- If you’re unmarried with no children, your estate will be allocated in the following order: your parents, full siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts (then their children), half-uncles and half-aunts (then their children).
- If you’re unmarried and have no living relatives, all your money and assets will go to the crown.
As you can see, there is no provision for partners or children from blended families – even if you’ve been living with them for years or decades. You’ll need to have a will that clearly sets out your wishes if you want to pass your things on to them when you die.
Do I need a will if I’m not married?
Say you’ve been living with your partner for 30 years in a home you own. If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, they can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy. So if you don’t have a will they won’t inherit anything from you – including the house they’ve lived in with you for three decades.
To ensure your partner inherits, you need to have a will that clearly states what you want them to receive. If this doesn’t happen, they won’t receive anything. It’s important people know about this as cohabiting with long-term partners instead of marriage is becoming more prevalent.
When should I update my will?
It’s recommended to review your will every five years, even if no major life events have happened.
However, you should definitely review and possibly update your will after the following life events:
- You get married: Getting married will invalidate your will in England and Wales, so be sure to update it and include your new spouse.
- You separate: If you die while separated you will be treated as legally married and your spouse will still inherit from you.
- You get divorced: Getting divorced does not invalidate your will, so you’ll need to review your wishes and update accordingly.
- Familial changes: If new children or grandchildren are born or adopted. If you change who you want to be the guardian of your children in the event of your death. If you marry and become a blended family your step-children do not automatically inherit from you – be sure to include them in your will if you want them to.
- Someone named in your will dies: If someone named in your will dies you can name who you want to receive their gift instead in your new will.
- Change of executor: If a named executor dies or is no longer fit to be an executor, you’ll need to change your will naming someone new. It’s recommended to have more than one, and you can have up to four.
Creating a new will automatically invalidates the old one.
Should I get legal advice when writing or changing my will?
Although you can write a will on your own, we strongly recommend you consult a solicitor. We can ensure your wishes are possible and will be carried out in the way you want.
Your will is such an important document with big repercussions on your family if something is wrong with it. If your will is confusing, lacks clarity, or has been signed incorrectly it will be invalid. If your will is invalid the rules of intestacy would be applied, even if you’ve outlined different wishes in the will. Our team will ensure your will is correct and valid, giving you peace of mind your wishes will be carried out.
We’ve been helping clients in Manchester, Stockport, and throughout the UK with their wills for years. Our friendly team can answer any questions you have, and always explain complex legal matters in plain English.