Tony Levene is a renowned financial journalist, who has previously been a columnist for Guardian Money. He has written several books, including 'Investing for Dummies' and won the ABI Lifetime Achievement award and the Headline Money award.
The easy answer to this question is to turn it on its head. Asking bluntly “Is drawing up a will a waste of time and money?” puts the onus on you to come up with reasons why you should not bother.
There are few circumstances when having a will is wrong. However around one in three of people who depart this earth don't have one.
Solicitors see it as a very bad idea – it can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on those you leave behind.
We all know that one day we must all die. But few like to contemplate a world minus themselves so we put it
off, and off.
But – and this may be seen as controversial – intestacy is not such a big deal if you have nothing to leave, or if you have little and it is clear that it will all go to your partner or parents. A number of that “one in three” fall into this category although even if you have very little, a will means you can leave something to charity – this can't happen unless you document this in your will.
For those with a bit more, a will is a necessary part of life. Dying without a will invokes the “rules of intestacy.” These are complex, and become more so, the bigger your estate. They are intended to represent what a “typical person” would do. The difficulty is that no individual is “typical”. Partners outside of marriage and civil partnerships are ignored, as are family beyond the immediate, friends and good causes. Citizens Advice has guidance here.
The rules can be very tricky where step-children and step parents are involved. Although similar in principle, details are slightly differen outside
England and Wales.
Dying intestate can mean your estate – what you leave – ends up with someone you detest! If you have no family, that can mean your assets get transferred to the Crown, through a device called “bona vacantia” although these days the Treasury solicitor makes efforts to find relatives although
there is no obligation.
The difficulty with writing a will is getting around to doing it – coping with our own mortality. We all know that one day we must all die. But few like to contemplate a world minus themselves so we put it off, and off. While you are more likely to die when you are 80, you are not guaranteed even one more
day of life at 40.
It's better to have a basic, valid will rather than none. Local solicitors charge around £100 for a basic document. If you have a partner, ask for “mirror wills”, where two people make almost identical wills leaving the same to each other and the same bequests to family depending on who dies first.
Watch out that lawyers don't put themselves in the will as an executor – that way your family could be stuck with a high cost “probate/executorship” service after your death and be unable to shop around for better deals. Family executors can appoint a lawyer of their own choice, or if the will is relatively simple and they feel capable, carry out the work themselves.
Otherwise, if your wishes include a charitable donation, a number of good causes will offer will-writing services for nothing. Solicitors hate wills drawn up on forms bought at stationery shops. But if your estate is simple and you are confident, you can produce a valid will.
The will may be that “last testament” but it is not necessarily for ever. You should tear it up and start again should your partner arrangements change or if there are additions (or subtractions) from your family.
Finally, consider going beyond just having a will. You might want to appoint someone to sort out your affairs if you become incapable of doing so but remain alive. You could produce a "living will", which will enable you to set out your views on medical intervention and a Power of Attorney. You have to arrange both while you still have the mental capacity to do so.
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