Writing a will may not be one of life’s most enjoyable tasks but it’s arguably one of the most significant and enduring acts of our lives. Yet, in the UK today only 3 in 10 of us have written a will.
Thinking and planning for death isn’t easy. But making sure our affairs are in order can give us peace of mind and avoid unnecessary stress for our loved ones when our time does come.
As part of the city’s Dying Matters plan which launched during this year’s awareness week, we’re encouraging people in Leeds to talk more openly about death and dying and to also plan ahead. This includes things like communicating funeral wishes with loved ones and writing a will, with this October being St Gemma’s Hospice’s Make a Will Month it seemed topical to explore why writing a will is important.
There are many reasons people don’t make a will, some say they simply haven’t got round to it yet, a few believe writing one might ‘tempt fate’, while others feel they don’t have anything worth leaving, despite pensions and life assurance being assets worth inheriting. Dying ‘intestate’ (without a will) means your money, property and possessions will be shared out by the law rather than your wishes, meaning your nearest and dearest could end up going without.
This October is St Gemma’s Make a Will Month, they’ve joined forces with over 30 local solicitors to give people the opportunity to make a will in return for a donation to the Hospice. A standard will normally costs £120, but this month, solicitors have agreed to waive their usual fees.
To find out more about why making a will is important, I spoke to Chris, a solicitor from a local law firm participating in Make a Will Month.
Hi Chris, why do you think it’s important to make a will?
It’s important for the people you leave behind so they can organise and deal with your estate quickly and efficiently. Few families these days are ‘simple’ and intestacy laws are too rigid for many people’s family circumstances, for instance the law doesn’t take into account unmarried partners or step children. So making a will is important to ensure that what you have goes to those you want it to.
Have you dealt with many complications caused by people dying without wills?
Yes loads. Delay and uncertainty are major issues. Finding beneficiaries can be complicated. Recently, in two situations I’ve had to hire heir hunters to find the families of the deceased. I’ve had beneficiaries who were close to the deceased having to share the estate with remote family unknown to them. I’ve had people left virtually penniless. Ultimately, not leaving a will can mean your family and loved ones not having the power to do anything.
Quite a few people believe their situation is simple, i.e. married with one adult child, and therefore it’s not necessary to make a will. What are your thoughts on this?
Often it is true that families do mirror the intestacy rules which may be okay as long as family members are in existence. However, I always pose the question “what if you all die in the car together?” It’s obviously uncommon, but it can happen and then circumstances can become complicated. You’ll often find people have a brother or sister they dislike or have been estranged from for years and who’ll end up inheriting their entire estate. With a will, you can plan what’s going where. A will has the advantage of giving executors immediate power to act, instead of having to apply to Court for power under an intestacy.
When do you think is a good point in your life to consider making a will?
I think people need to not think of it in terms of making a will, but a series of wills, amending them accordingly to changing life circumstances. For instance: when you have responsibility to a partner, if you start a business, when you have children and need to appoint a guardian, basically whenever as a result of your death, others will be affected.
Also, the common belief that writing a will is only necessary when you’re older can be problematic, usually the younger you die the more of a mess you leave behind. In fact when you’re older, your mortgage (if you have one) is usually paid off, you probably don’t have dependents – you’re usually at your wealthiest and your life is less complicated. So I’d say making a will when you’re younger is more important.
For those who haven’t made a will what would you say to encourage them to do so?
Making a will is easy to do and can put your mind at rest knowing your money, property and possessions will go to the ones you want it to. You can make a will without a solicitor, but I would recommend avoiding DIY kits as most of the wills contested are homemade. If you are thinking about writing a will, I’d also encourage you to think about appointing attorneys under lasting powers of attorneys which are equally important – particularly in today’s society when people are living longer and conditions like dementia are becoming more prevalent.
Also, with it being St Gemma’s Make a Will month, I think this is a golden opportunity to not only get advice from a regulated, qualified and insured solicitor but support and benefit a wonderful local charity that does such important work in Leeds.
Thanks Chris, you’ve given us lots of useful information and things to consider when writing a will.
Jennifer Gridley, Communications Officer, Leeds City Council
If you’re thinking about writing a will these websites are a good place to start:
To find out more about St Gemma’s Make a Will Month visit:
Wheatfield’s Hospice also has a Make a Will fortnight next January 2016 and some good information on their website, click here to find out more.