As you get older, it is natural to start considering your mortality, what has been achieved in life, and what assets have been accumulated. So far in this blog series, the discussion has been about maximising your financial position, making money work harder for you, and providing a strong financial base for achieving your life goals, and supporting your retirement years.
What about though once you have gone? You cannot take whatever is left with you, that you have worked so hard to build up. So, wouldn’t it make sense to make it clear to those you leave behind, how they should benefit from your endeavours?
Most of us do not enjoy thinking of planning for our death. Having an updated Will can eliminate complications and make things easier for the loved ones left behind. When you pass away without a valid Will in place, strict government rules (Intestacy) are in place that dictate how your estate will be distributed. These rules often do not result with your estate passing to who you want it to, as the graphic below from The Probate Service shows (2021).
What follows is a list of thought-provoking considerations on why its advantageous to sort your Will sooner rather than later. It is worth remembering that a will is only effective after you have passed away
Marriage or civil partnership
Research by Canada Life shows that only about 41%1 of the British population has a Will.
Upon entering a new marriage or civil partnership, any existing Will becomes invalid and must be updated, otherwise an estate could be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, not the Will, and possibly a new spouse or civil partner losing out.
Potential to take advantage of Inheritance Tax (IHT) exemptions, Nil Rate Band (NRB) threshold doubling, and application of the Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB) where applicable. (Thresholds could be £1million (2022-23 tax year). IHT is chargeable at 40%. You should ALWAYS seek professional financial advice from a suitably qualified adviser
Recent research by YouGov shows that more than half of British parents (59%)1 are either without a Will, or the one they have is outdated.
A Will can ensure that your children are taken care of financially if you are no longer here to support them as they grow up.
Stepchildren are currently not accounted for under the current Laws of Intestacy if they have not been formally adopted by you and will not automatically benefit financially from your estate unless they are included in your Will.
A child’s guardianship can also be expressed in a will, in the event their other parent is already deceased, or they lose both parents at the same time. If not, then the courts will decide who will be appointed as guardian, of which you/they may not approve.
Grandparents should also update their Wills whenever a new grandchild is added to the family will ensure no one important is left out.
Buying a new home
For the majority, buying a property is the largest purchase you will make in a lifetime. It has the potential to significantly increase your own net worth or that of your beneficiaries, so dictating who this asset should be passed to is not a decision to be taken lightly.
If you own a property solely and subsequently die without a Will, your property will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.
When you buy the property jointly, ownership will be arranged as either joint tenants or tenants in common. You must seek professional advice when creating your will.
Joint tenancy allows your share (upon your passing) to automatically pass to the surviving joint partner so that they become sole owner.
Tenancy in common allows your share of the property to pass to any named beneficiary or trust set up in a Will guaranteeing them your half share in your estate
The divorce rate in England and Wales currently stands at 8.9 divorces per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 years and over2, based on 2019 data from ONS. Separating couples with a joint or mirror Will need to know how to adjust to this unfortunate circumstance.
Separation and/or divorce often disrupts one’s life and lifestyle quite significantly, which means that among the settlement of finances, children, property, etc., updating a Will is likely to be forgotten about.
Being separated means that you are still legally married or in a civil partnership, so if your spouse or civil partner is due to inherit part or all your estate or become your Executor, which will still happen if you pass away before it is updated, and the rules of intestacy could still apply.
Divorce has a bigger impact on a Will. Once the decree absolute (the final order) is issued, the former spouse or civil partner is removed from the Will in any areas they were mentioned. A gap is created if no substitute arrangements are made and will be settled according to the rules of intestacy.
While this could mean that an estate is inherited by children or siblings, it could also mean that a new partner or new family would not be provided for.
Improvement in finances
If you are lucky enough to see significant positive change in your financial situation, an inheritance or lottery win, you should review the contents of your Will to account for the change in your net worth.
Generally, each country where an asset is held will have its own rules to dictate what happens to those assets, including who can inherit them and what taxes are applicable.
Be aware that anyone domiciled in the UK will pay Inheritance Tax on assets held anywhere in the world.
Death of a loved one
The passing of a potential beneficiary could significantly alter the plans you have in place for your estate, especially if you have not arranged for the gift to be passed to their descendants.
Wills can always be updated to reflect changes to your Will instructions in response to various family events, whether it be loss of or an addition to your family.
As you get older your health conditions will change, A sudden diagnosis of a serious or terminal health condition will be a terrifying prospect for anyone to contemplate.
If your condition does not affect your mental capacity, but could shorten your life expectancy, planning ahead to ensure your affairs are in order and your loved ones will be taken care of by way of a valid Will is an action worth pursuing.
On average we are living longer, and sadly, more and more people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, both of which should encourage you to draw up Lasting Powers of Attorney for you and your loved ones, which are covered in the next blog post in more detail.
This has been quite a lengthy blog post, but hopefully one that ensures everyone who reads this, understands why a Will is vitally important. Later in this blog series we will touch on estate planning, and some of the points raised here will be highlighted again.
The next blog in the series will explore Lasting Powers of Attorney.
Blog written with the contribution of :
Greg Pawsey Aff. SWW.
Will Adviser and Estate Planner Tel: 07882 052346
1. 28/9/20 - Report in Wealth Adviser based on research by Canada Life Thirty one million UK adults don't have a will in place, says new research (wealthadviser.co)
2. 2019 ONS data re Divorces in England and Wales Divorces in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)