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Money & Rights

Don't ignore Will Power

According to research, a record number of adults don’t have a Will, which means the law decides who inherits their assets. Teri Harman reports

More than 29 million Britons – around 56 per cent of adults – haven’t written a Will, either formal or informal, meaning their estate would be subject to the strict rules of intestacy. This was the worrying conclusion of research late last year by Direct Line Life Insurance.

The umbrella organisation for Independent Financial Advisers, Unbiased, puts the figure even higher, at 31 million people without a Will. While 71 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 do not have a Will, alarmingly more than a third of adults over 55 – 34 per cent, or 6.8 million people – also do not have a Will in place.

This means that when they die their estate will be shared only among their direct family and blood relatives (excluding any unmarried partners or stepchildren/ grandchildren), and any wishes they may have expressed will not be taken into account. By not making a Will they are denying themselves any say about where their assets will be distributed when they die.

Royal London says its research last year further found that, of those adults without a Will, one in four has no intention of ever making one. Furthermore, of those that do have a Will in place, almost a third have experienced a significant life-changing event, such as marriage, divorce or becoming a parent since writing it, yet more than half failed to update their Will as a consequence.

Many people don’t realise any previous Will is automatically invalidated by marriage, says Royal London’s spokesperson Mona Patel, adding: “Once you have a Will, you should update it after any significant life events that could affect your financial situation, such as getting married or divorced, or starting a family.

“Once you have a Will, you should update it after any significant life events that could affect your financial situation, such as getting married or divorced, or starting a family”

Mona Patel of Royal London

“Taking these important steps allows you to have peace of mind knowing that when you’re gone your wishes will be met.”

It’s impossible to know exactly why so many people risk dying intestate, but Co-op Legal Services say there are a number of common themes, including the popular misconception that friends and family will be able to decide between them what happens to a person’s money, assets and belongings when they die.

Also, there is a general reluctance to broach the subject of death or consider one’s own mortality, and a widespread belief that making a Will is a complicated, time-consuming and expensive process.

I have also heard many older people claim that they don’t have enough assets (or close family) to worry about making a Will or they believe that the rules of intestacy will adequately fulfil their wishes.

Considering Direct Line’s research found that, of those adults who have made Wills, only 39 per cent have divided their assets equally among family members, it appears most people’s wishes would not in fact be served by the intestacy rules.

You may even want to disinherit your children altogether. TV chef Gordon Ramsay has stated he has no intention of leaving a substantial inheritance to his children, declaring: “It’s definitely not going to them, and that’s not in a mean way; it’s to not spoil them.”

Pop singer/songwriter Sting recently said he also would not be leaving his £180m fortune to his children, and the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick’s two daughters supported her decision to leave her entire fortune to charity. It may be no coincidence that both are very successful businesswomen. There are many reasons why a parent may want to disinherit their children, says Ben Wilson of northern firm Forbes Solicitors – from a family argument to wanting your children to make their own way in the world.

However, he says: “Disinheriting a child might not be as straightforward as just cutting your offspring out of your Will. The best way to ensure your wishes are adhered to is to have a Will in place drafted by a qualified and experienced solicitor. Although not legally binding, a letter of wishes explaining the rationale behind a decision is always helpful.”

The majority of people in Royal London’s survey who had a Will described the process of writing it with legal help as being ‘quick’ (85 per cent) and ‘easy’ (90 per cent), exploding the myth that it is complicated and difficult.

Finally, it also need not be expensive, with costs from around £150 for a relatively straightforward Will. There are also initiatives that allow you to make a Will for free (see ‘Have your Will written for free’ Choice, July 2018).

You can also, of course, make a DIY Will, using online forms or by buying a ‘kit’ from stationers such as WH Smith or Rymans, but Choice recommends you use a legal professional, particularly as Royal London’s research found 5.4 million adults without a Will said they wouldn’t know where to begin to write one themselves.

A solicitor will also ensure the Will is written correctly and is legally binding. You can also use a specialist Will-writing company, which may be a cheaper option than a solicitor. However their regulation isn’t the same as for solicitors, so you won’t have the same protection if something goes wrong.

If you do use a Will-writing company, make sure they belong to the Society of Will Writers or the Institute of Professional Will Writers, which means they must be insured to cover legal costs if your Will is challenged, and they follow a code of practice approved by Trading Standards.

Who administers your estate if you die without a Will?

If you die without a Will, someone will still need to administer your estate. The absence of a Will can make this more complicated, especially if it is not clear what assets you had, you have complex family relationships, or family members are spread far and wide – all of which make distributing your estate under intestacy rules difficult. They will still need to apply for a grant of ‘letters of administration’ (also known as grant of representation, or grant of probate). This grant makes them the ‘administrator’ of the estate and allows them to value all your assets, pay any debts and distribute the estate according to the intestacy rules. (If the deceased has no surviving relatives, their assets pass to the Crown, and HM Treasury is then responsible for dealing with the estate).

The information in this feature relates only to England and Wales. For information about the rules of intestacy in Scotland, log on to: (www2.gov.scot) and search for ‘rights of succession’. For Northern Ireland, see: (www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/ what-do-if-there-no-will).

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