Explained: What is a Will and Do I Need One?

Do you think about dying?

I must admit to thinking about my demise on a very regular basis. Indeed, it's the subject of my most common dream. This started in my mid 40s, after the onset of what I can only describe as a mid-life crisis of confidence. Both my parents became ill and my father passed away in 2013. The death volume was ramped up in my head and I began worrying incessantly about how my family would cope without me. One of my biggest worries has always been who would show my boys how to be men in my absence?

My wife and I executed our first Will whilst in our late 30s, some 15 years ago, completely driven by her might I add. She knew of it's importance and insisted my parents formalise their wishes. Like many of you...men in particular (yes, I see you), my approach was to amble. Since that time, we have made amendments and are currently in the midst of finalising further changes to be implemented soon.

A Will or testament is a legal document by which a person, the testator, expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death. It should name one or more persons as executor to manage the estate until its final distribution.

Anyone adult who is in a relationship, has children, owns assets or a combination thereof, should, regardless of age, have a Will.

But we know this is not the case at all. Research, carried out as part of the British Public Attitudes Survey (2012) revealed:

  • Only one in three people had a Will.
  • Only one person in four had registered for organ donation.
  • Only one in 20 had an advance care plan, setting out how they would want to be cared for if incapacitated.
  • Only one in 10 people had made a plan for their funeral.
  • Almost seven out of ten people admitted they had never discussed anything about Wills or funerals with anybody.

The most common reasons for an unwillingness to broach the subject of death include:

I don’t have the time.

Well, the answer to that is  stop the procrastinating and make the time. Naming beneficiaries and an executor are crucial decisions and require time to think through thoroughly. Don't leave your relatives fighting over property and possessions because you did not make your wishes abundantly clear via a will. Make time, or run out of it.

I don’t want to think about dying.

This is probably the most common reason people don’t do some estate planning. But it is not all about dying, but having capacity. Plan whilst still completely compos mentis. Estate planning can challenge your thinking by having to consider things like, who will get custody of your minor children, who gets your money and where you’ll want to be buried/cremated. Estate planning is uncomfortable, but highly necessary. 

I just don’t understand them.

Well, you've come to the right place. 40RTY will help you analyze your estate and help you to understand your choices. You may not have an estate large enough for a trust, but that doesn’t not negate the need for a Will, with your wishes clearly specified. If you become incapacitated from an accident, who will manage your affairs? Do you want to be kept on life support? Let 40RTY help you with the necessary knowledge and education.

 I don't have an estate worth worrying about.

Many assume they don’t have enough wealth to worry about estate planning. You have an estate if you own pretty much anything. Something as simple as owning jewellery, family photos, a car or a home can be a problem if you don’t decide who will receive it when you pass. If you don’t have a Will or a named beneficiary, then the probate process could be pure hell for your survivors. Contact 40RTY to help you get started.

I‘m not rich, so there’s no point.

If you have anything special that you’d like to give to someone then you can ensure that they receive it by gifting it to them in your Will. Further, a main reason to make your Will is to name an Executor (the person who will deal with the estate and the funeral), otherwise family members will have to apply to the probate office. Just the cost of doing so and the avoidance of doubt as to who the deceased would have wanted is enough justification to write a Will. Lastly, but probably most importantly, a Will can name the children’s Guardians. If not named in a Will, a court will decide who the Guardians will be; the person they decide upon may not be who the deceased would have wanted.

To reiterate, anyone over the age of 18 can have a Will and I strongly recommend it to anyone in a relationship, who has children, assets or a combination of all three . And importantly, Wills are not for just sorting out finances and property in the event of your death, you can specify what should happen in the event you become incapacitated (known as an advanced decision, advance directive or living Will), appoint guardians for your children and even leave money to your friends or a charity. The thing to keep in mind is that without a Will, you run the risk of the government deciding these things for you. Moreover, you also sew the seeds of conflict that could take root among those you leave behind.

Here are some great reasons to have a will:

You decide how your estate will be distributed.

A Will is a legally-binding document that lets you determine how you would like your estate to be distributed after you die. As stressed above, having a Will helps minimize any family fights about your estate that may arise.

You decide who will take care of your minor children.

Having a Will allows you to choose the person you want to raise your children or, ensure it is not someone you would not want to assume the responsibility. Without one, the court will select a family member or a state-appointed guardian.

To avoid elongating the probate process.

All estates must go through the probate process, with or without a Will. Having a legally valid Will speeds up the probate process and informs the court how you’d like your estate to be distributed. If you die intestate (without a Will), the court will decide how to divide estate by following the rules of intestacy.

Minimize estate your tax liability.

Wills give you an opportunity to use trusts to protect your legacy, keep your wealth and possessions within your family and importantly, can help to limit you inheritance liability. Moreover, anything you leave to charity is free of Inheritance Tax and of course benefits  a good cause of your choice. And if you leave at least 10% of your estate to charity, Inheritance Tax is calculated as 36% rather than 40%.

You decide who will wind up the affairs of your estate.

Because executors play the biggest role in the administration of your estate, you’ll want to be sure to appoint someone you trust, is organised and committed. Executors make sure all your affairs are in order, including paying off bills, canceling your credit cards, and notifying the bank and other business.

You can disinherit individuals who would otherwise stand to inherit.

You can disinherit individuals who would otherwise inherit your estate if you die without a Will. Because Wills specifically outline how you would like your estate distributed. Absent a Will, your estate may end up on the wrong hands or in the hands of someone you did not intend (such as an ex-spouse with whom you had a bitter divorce).

A Will is never set in stone whilst you are alive and have capacity.

A good reason for having a Will is that you can change it at any time while you’re still alive. Life changes, such as births, deaths, and divorce, can create situations where changing your Will are necessary.

Because tomorrow is not promised.

Sometimes the realization that wills are necessary comes too late – such as when an unexpected death or disability occurs. To avoid the added stress on families during an already emotional time, speak with 40RTY to help you draw up a basic estate plan at the minimum, before it’s too late.