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About wills

Do I need a will?
 
Writing a will is probably not the most pleasant activity you may think of. However it not has to be a difficult one and it can bring you and your relatives a peace of mind. Currently only 1/3 people in the UK have a written will at the time of their death. In that situation all your assets (including your house, a car, bank accounts or even very personal belongings) will be divided according to the state’s rules of intestacy (when someone dies without a will) rather than based on your wishes. This is not the only reason why you should have a will – you can not only leave a particular gifts to people named by you, but you can also appoint guardians for your children if they are still minors, donate a charity or specify your funeral arrangements.
 
How to prepare?
 
Before you start writing your will you should draft a list of things you own: properties, life insurance, banks accounts, investments, items of personal and sentimental value.
 
In step two you should think who you want to benefit from your will (those people will be named as beneficiaries of a will). Those people can be your children, a spouse, a partner, family members, friends or charities. According to law you need to provide for people depended on you (usually minor children and a spouse or a partner) – otherwise your will might be challenged in a court.
 
If you are a parent and you die before your children reach the age of 18 you may consider appointing legal guardians. Usually it is the other surviving parent who takes over the responsibility however when both parents die at the same time (e.g. a car accident) then it is very practical to name a person or people who should take care of your children.
 
Finally, you should choose someone who will administrate your assets and ensure that your wishes are carried out in accordance with your will. That person is known as an executor of a will.
However you should be aware that the person you choose should be aware of this and should also agree to perform his or hers role as an executor (in practice it means that you might need to ask if that person agrees to become your executor and if so, then he or she needs to be aware where you place your will, e.g. also needs to have a key access to a safe or a safety deposit box).
 
Why is it important to have a will?
 
Many of us don’t realise how important it is to have a will. People who we will consider to be a family members don’t need to be them in the light of law – for example if you leave with a partner he or she does not automatically inherit after your death because currently law does not recognise so called ‘common law marriages’ – relationships without being formally registered or if you don’t have any relatives then everything might go to the government (the Crown). Having a written will can prevent that kind of unpleasant situation in advance.
 
Once you decide who you want to get any particular gifts you can also choose who will inherit your residuary estate (everything you own taken together after deducing any gifts if you specified one) and it what shares – it can be either in equal shares (to all people you name) or in shares specified by you (for example “to my wife  Joan Smith 50%, to my daughter Alison Smith 20%, to my son Richard Smith 20%, to my friend John Smith 10%, or it can be also a single person who receives everything).
 
Any will to be valid needs to be signed – by a testator (person who has a will) in the presence of 2 witnesses (who also need to sign a will). It is important to remember that witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of a will (neither can be their spouses) – any gift left to them will be invalid.
 
Glossary of a will:
 
Will/ testament – a legal document which allows you to divide everything you own according to your wishes
 
Intestacy – situation when you die without a valid will. Your assets are divided according to the national state’s rules.
 
Beneficiaries – people who you can name to receive benefits from your will (it can be a child, a spouse, a partner, a friend or a charity.
 
Gifts/ legacies – particular items, specific amount of money, a property. Anything you want to leave to a specific person.
 
Residuary estate – anything that is left after administrating any specific gifts, payment of inheritance tax (if one has to be paid), payments for the funeral.
 
Testator – a legal term for a person who has a will (testatrix if that person is a female).
 
Executor – a person or people (if you choose more than 1) who will administrate your will and will distribute assets to beneficiaries.
 
Obtaining a probate – process of registering a will (it is a duty of an executor) with the relevant authorities. After successful registration they will gain access to your assets to be able to distribute them to beneficiaries.