By Alex Cross, Head of Product Management for McCarthy & Stone
Alex has over ten years experience in developing and managing products specifically designed with the retirement market in mind. Alex currently heads up McCarthy & Stone’s financial services division.
Seven out of ten people do not have a Will* yet and it’s a statistic that’s on the rise, even though nine out of ten of us say we know who we want our hard earned money to go to. But without a will, it’s the government who will decide who will benefit from your inheritance according to the rules of intestacy, and if you have no family to make a claim, the government will receive everything.
Writing a will provides peace of mind that everything is properly taken care of and ensures your last wishes are carried out. Here is a list of ten tips you need to consider when planning your will.
*Research from the National Consumer Council.
1) Who should draw up a will? If you have any assets at all you should draw up a will and seek professional legal advice. Our lives are getting increasingly complex with more blended families from marriages, divorces and bereavement, as well as other issues such as overseas properties or businesses, so it is worth seeking professional advice to ensure that you have all known, and any potentially unforeseen future circumstances, covered.
2) What should be included in a will? Your will needs to set out who you want to benefit from your estate including any savings, pensions, life insurance, shares, property and personal possessions. Your will should also advise who should look after any children under 18.
3) Your choice of beneficiaries. You should make a list of all the people and charities you wish to leave money or possessions to (your beneficiaries). Remember if you have an unmarried partner or have not registered a civil partnership you do not inherit automatically from each other unless there is a will.
4) Do I need a solicitor? It is possible to write a will yourself, but a will-writing service or solicitor will ensure only your chosen beneficiaries are entitled to your assets and no mistakes have been made which could make it invalid. Professional advisors should be able to give you an estimate of their will writing charge in advance.
5) Choosing an executor. Your will should name a professional and/or personal executor. This can be a solicitor, spouse/partner, relative or financial firm. Executors have important legal responsibilities that not everyone might be comfortable with, including producing full financial records of the estate and a duty to ensure assets are paid to the correct beneficiaries and any debts. Always ask permission beforehand.
6) Wills and Inheritance tax. The tax-free £325,000 threshold for inheritance tax (IHT) is now frozen until 2019 to help fund the £75,000 cap on elderly care home bills, meaning more people will become subject to this tax as property prices rise. IHT at 40 per cent has to be paid on assets over £325,000 (36 per cent if 10 per cent or more of the net estate is given to charity). To avoid or minimise IHT, many people try and reduce the value of their estate. Transfers of money or possessions bequeathed before you die are only exempt from IHT if you live for seven years, if you die beforehand, gifts will be taxed at their current value, not when you gave them away.
7) Put it in writing. To be valid, a will has to be in writing and signed by the person making the will in the presence of two witnesses, and also signed by them in their presence. Witnesses cannot be beneficiaries who will inherit under the will. Names of beneficiaries should exactly match those on their passport. A will also has to be made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person.
8) Keep your will up to date to make sure it still reflects your wishes. People are often unaware of the effect of marriage, remarriage, civil partnership or divorce, birth or adoption of children on a will, and fail to consider that a beneficiary may die before the will maker.
9) How to change a will. The only way to change a will is by making an official alteration called a codicil, or writing a new will. A codicil is a supplement to the will to make simple alterations leaving the rest intact. Alterations also need to be signed and witnessed or they will be invalid. A new will should state that it revokes all previous wills and codicils.
10) Where to keep your new will. Keep your will in a safe place either at home, with a solicitor or accountant, at a bank or probate office/department. Make your family/executors aware of where the will is kept to avoid legal delays after your death and to ensure any funeral wishes are met.
Alex Cross has over ten years experience in developing and managing products specifically designed with the retirement market in mind. Alex currently heads up McCarthy & Stone’s financial services division.
For more information about later life financial and will planning visit http://www.mccarthyandstone.co.uk/money/later-life-planning/will-writing/
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