Opinion  

Simple wills are not enough for many families

Rose St Louis

Rose St Louis

October is Free Wills Month, during which people aged 55 and over can have simple wills written or updated for free by participating solicitors.

This valuable initiative encourages people to think about their wishes and start getting their financial affairs in order. 

Simple wills, such as those offered in Free Wills Month, are great options for some people – typically those with straightforward circumstances or limited assets. These individuals may not need advice, and a self-directed will suffices. 

For many, however, simple wills are, frankly, too simple. Today, nuclear families with ‘2.4 children’ are no longer the norm: long-term cohabitation, divorce, remarriage, adoption, and step-parenthood are all common features of modern family life. 

This diversity of family life is beautiful and adds vibrancy to our society today, but it can make financial planning more challenging and create complexities upon death.

Seeking professional advice is essential for those with any complexity in their financial or personal circumstances: after all, upon death, all most people want is an assurance that their estate passes to the intended people, without fear of inadvertently disinheriting them. 

Unintended consequences

Let’s take the example of someone who has children from a first marriage, but is getting married again, and creating mirroring wills with their new spouse.

These mirroring wills could quite easily – and unintentionally – disinherit their children from their first marriage, with assets automatically passing to the new spouse and no provision made for existing children. 

Ahead of any event that adds complexity to personal or financial affairs, it is critical to seek advice. Wills are not a ‘once and done’ subject, instead they should be a living, renewable document that notes any circumstantial changes.

Raising the need to make changes to a will is an uncomfortable subject for many, but avoiding or delaying this matter could stem further complications and create conflict after a bereavement. 

Advisers have a trusted position with their clients, and so are well-placed to raise the subject of estate planning at an early stage. Referring them to a specialist, if appropriate, could then further assure the client that their wishes can be carried out, even if their family or financial situation is not straightforward. 

Time to talk about death: the adviser’s role

One factor that exacerbates complexity when it comes to wills and financial planning is our general reluctance to talk about death. Ideally, if you are setting up a life with someone and creating wealth together, you would be discussing what happens to your assets when you die – but often, we aren’t. 

This is where an adviser plays a critical role, brokering these conversations and asking the difficult questions and the ‘what ifs?’. Advisers can facilitate the discussion, getting down to a real level of granularity about what their client leaves their partner, spouse or children.

At the same time, the advice can guide the client to leave their estate in better shape, raising options they may not have previously considered.