Writing a will should be a vital part of the end of life planning process.
But these important documents can get neglected entirely, or are not updated to reflect the will writer’s actual wishes when they do die.
Tim Bennett, head of education at Killik & Co, explains the importance of a will: “Without a valid will, the distribution of any assets on death follows statutory rules, rather than the express wishes of the deceased.
“Further, a will can specify key roles, such as who will act as executor and take responsibility for ensuring that instructions within the will are properly carried out, as well as indicating who will be legal guardian to any surviving children.”
Having an up-to-date will at time of death also makes the grieving process that bit easier for surviving family members.
As Helen O’Hagan, technical manager in Prudential’s technical team, notes: “Creating a will allows you to dictate what happens to your assets when you die, they will be divided up in accordance with your wishes.
“It makes it easier for your family to deal with your estate at a stressful and emotional time.”
It is common now for families to be far more complicated, particularly if parents have married for a second or third time, and children have step-parents with their own children.
So working out who will receive which assets following a death in the family is important, as it may not be obvious, at first glance, to whom the deceased would like to leave their assets.
Adam Hildred, a financial planner at Brewin Dolphin, acknowledges: “A complicated pension and inheritance tax landscape, extended families, and the changing nature of partnerships mean the details of your will merit careful attention.”
What happens if your client has not left a will?
“When a person dies without leaving a valid will, their estate must be shared out in accordance with the ‘rules of intestacy’,” says Mr Hildred.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean children will be looked after as you may assume. In the absence of a valid will, the surviving spouse or registered civil partner will inherit all of the personal property and belongings and the first £250,000 of the value of the deceased’s estate.
“The remainder of the estate will be split as follows: 50 per cent to the spouse or civil partner, 50 per cent split equally between any children. If there are no surviving children, the division of the estate will be carried out in accordance with a fixed order.”
Keeping on top of it
This may leave family members in a possibly desperate situation at an already overwhelming and upsetting time.