Claire from Expressions Wills shares expert tips on preparing for a will.
Writing a will is not something you can just do on the spur of the moment. It is something that you need to give careful consideration. The aim of this podcast is to share background information about what’s included in a will and the considerations that you’ll need to make.
When should I think about preparing for a will?
If you’re physically and mentally well and over the age of 18, then it’s probably the right time to make a will. It’s really important, whether or not you have many possessions or a lot of money.
It makes it so much easier to have everything clearly documented – people can take your will and execute it. Wills are especially important for unmarried couples, parents of under 18s, those with complex family situations or anyone that has a fairly sizable estate. People in these situations are more likely to fall outside of the default inheritance laws.
Making a will ensures that the right people inherit at the right time, and everybody has what they need to carry on when you’re not here anymore.
What’s the first step in preparing a will?
The first step is to identify exactly what you own and what will form part of your will. Your ‘estate’ is a term that describes all the assets in your will. It can include money, property, stocks and shares, savings and investments, and also takes into consideration any debts and liabilities that you have, such as a mortgage, a bank loan or car finance.
You should also look at the structure of any pensions or life insurance policies that you have, to establish whether these are going to form part of your estate and what happens to those funds when you die.
The other thing to think about in this modern world is your digital assets. Would your loved ones know what accounts you have and how to access them if you’re not here anymore?
What other details will I need to prepare?
There are some roles that you will need to consider, and appoint individuals to act under the will. The three main roles are:
- Executors – responsible for administering your estate in accordance with your will after you die.
- Trustees – responsible for administering property held within a trust for the benefit of others. Trusts usually look after a child’s inheritance, typically while they’re under the age of 18.
- Guardians – For parents with a child under 18, you appoint Guardians in your will to look after your children if both parents die before they turn 18.
You also need to consider who will be your beneficiaries – who do you want to inherit all or part of your estate under the will?
How do I go about choosing those different roles?
Looking at the executors first, their main responsibilities are to identify and value the assets in the estate, calculate any debts and liabilities, pay inheritance tax and, where applicable, apply to the court for a ‘grant of probate’, which essentially gives permission to administer the estate and distribute the assets.
To be an executor, you need to be over the age of 18 and have mental capacity. Being an executor can sometimes be an onerous task. So when you’re thinking about your executors, it’s important to think about their age, their health, whether they have any useful financial knowledge, and whether they have the time and the ability to carry out that role.
For trustees, you need at least two, generally up to a maximum of four, and they have to jointly make all decisions. Their main responsibilities include taking possession of trust property, registering their ownership, complying with the terms of the will and applying for the funds for the beneficiaries.
Depending on the nature of the trust, being a trustee could potentially be a long term commitment. So again consider your potential trustees’ age, health, financial knowledge – and is there potentially any conflict of interest with your beneficiaries that could cause problems?
In terms of Guardians, looking after somebody else’s children is a huge responsibility.
Before you make this decision, discuss the role with potential Guardians first. Their responsibilities will be to oversee the welfare and safety of the child, make decisions on their upbringing, where they will live and their education, depending on their age.
You might also wish to consider specifying replacement Guardians, if for any reason your first choice is unable or unwilling to take on the role.
How do I decide on my funeral wishes?
It is possible to include funeral wishes in a will. Whilst these aren’t necessarily legally binding, it can be very important to give your loved ones an indication of your wishes. If they don’t know what you want, it can cause real heartache at a time when they’re already grieving. It sometimes causes disputes if people have conflicting opinions.
It could simply be your preference between burial and cremation, or more specific wishes in a side letter about the content of a funeral service, where you want your ashes to be scattered or where you’d like to be buried.
What about gifts in a will?
In this sense, we’re talking about sums of money or personal possessions. In your will you generally refer to something called your residuary estate, which is essentially one big pot with all of your assets, and you decide how that you want that to be distributed.
Aside from your residuary estate, you can give specific gifts. This could be a sum of money or a percentage of your general estate. It might be that you have a specific property or other particular personal belongings that you would like to go to a particular person or group of people.
People often want to gift money to charity or grandchildren or other family members or to pass on items of sentimental value. All those gifts can be factored into the will separate to the general residuary estate.
How do I prepare my will?
It’s best to seek the services of a professional will writer to make sure that the document meets legal requirements and that it accurately reflects your wishes. There are so many pitfalls in writing a will and it’s really easy to fall into the traps. Someone who has sufficient knowledge and qualifications to carry out the task will make sure the will is valid and legally binding.
Generally, the process involves a confidential chat between you and your will writer. Couples might have a joint meeting, but ultimately your instructions are your own and are kept confidential.
How long do will preparations take?
It can be as quick or as slow as you want it to be. Usually a will consultation takes 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the complexity of your wishes. Sometimes if it is very in depth and complex there might be a follow up meeting.
Once you’ve provided your final instructions and confirmed exactly how you want to proceed, the professional can start preparing your documents. These are normally completed within 7 to 14 days. You then approve the contents and state that you clearly understand the terms before you go ahead and sign. It’s usual practice to issue a draft before then going on to the final documents for signature.
Some people speed through the process, whereas others prefer to take more time to consider their options and discuss things with their family.
How much does it cost to prepare a will?
The cost can depend on the professional and their experience, and on how simple or complex your estate and your requirements are. But as a general indication, a basic single will from a qualified will writer is in the region of £150 to £300. The more complex the will, the higher the fee is going to be.
Most will writers work on a fixed fee basis. The initial stage is a consultation where the professional explores your circumstances and requirements, and then they will give you an accurate cost.
What are the final steps in the will preparation process?
Once the will contents are approved and understood, we move on to signing the will. For a will to be valid, it must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses who are both over 18, and then the same document is signed by those same two witnesses in your presence.
A witness cannot be the spouse or civil partner of the person making the will, a beneficiary of the will or partner of a beneficiary. In this case they would forfeit their right to the share of the estate. Safe witnesses are your neighbour, a family friend or work colleague. Once the will is valid, it’s important to keep it somewhere safe.
Electronic wills and signatures aren’t valid, so that paper will, signed by you and your witnesses, is crucial and must be kept safe. You can store it yourself, somewhere waterproof and fireproof, or use a dedicated facility. That way it can be easily located when you die and cannot be accidentally lost, damaged, tampered with or destroyed.
A lot of will writers offer storage options for a small annual fee, which gives you some additional peace of mind. If you’ve invested all this time and money into making a will, you want to make sure it’s safe. Once stored, you should then review it every three to five years to make sure it still reflects your wishes.
If you have any questions about this podcast please do reach out. Send us a message, give us a call. We’d love to speak to you and help you in any way we possibly can.
Why Expression Wills
Claire has been really helpful throughout the process. She was particularly supportive in helping us decide who to appoint as guardians and trustees and gave us lots of insightful information to help us make the right decision for our family. We have been really happy with the service and would highly recommend Expression Wills.
I used Expression wills to take out my first will, Claire was very knowledgeable and the process was effortless. I would highly recommend Claire and Expression wills to anyone who needed a will.
Had wills completed for myself and my partner, we were already stressed as this was in the middle of our house purchase/sale but Claire made the whole process a breeze. Very informative and helpful every step of the way. Would definitely recommend to anybody thinking of getting a will done