In the UK, around three in five adults don’t have wills. Many have put off drafting their wills because they believe the process is complicated or they’re reluctant to confront their mortality.
Some plan to wait until they’re older or in ill health to think about a will. But people can die suddenly and unexpectedly and if you fall ill, you’ll have enough to worry about without considering writing your will. So, when is the best time to write your will?
Many people are reluctant to write a will now, anticipating that their situation may change in the future - for instance, they may have more children or grandchildren. But wills can be updated, often easily and at little expense.
If you die without a valid will, known as dying as an intestate person, your estate will be shared out according to intestacy rules. These rules hand the estate to close family members in succession. For example, most of an estate will go to the intestate person’s surviving spouse or civil partner. If no such person exists or has died, the estate will be divided up among the intestate person’s children.
But the allocation through the intestate process may not correspond with your wishes. Additionally, it can lead to disputes among family members. A will is the best way to ensure your wishes, on everything from your funeral to what happens to your money, property, and investments, are honoured. That’s why all adults are encouraged to write wills.
Many people draft wills or update them following significant life events. These may include:
Once you are married, your spouse becomes your primary heir under intestacy rules. That means if you die without a valid will, they’ll receive all your personal belongings and assets under £270,000. If you don’t want this to be the case—for instance, if you’d rather leave your estate to your children, other family members, or a charity—you’ll need to write a will to ensure this.
Additionally, when you get married, any will you have previously made is automatically voided. This means you’ll need to write a new will, or at least amend your existing will to state that it shouldn’t be revoked by marriage.
A divorce often dramatically changes a person’s financial status, responsibilities, and personal relationships, with implications for how they want their estate managed after death. For example, divorce might leave you in the sole custody of children, whose care you will want to provide for in your will.
Additionally, many married people don’t have wills prior to their divorce, relying on the intestacy process that automatically would give their estate to their spouse. If you no longer have a spouse, things become more complicated and a will becomes necessary.
Divorcing won’t void an existing will as marriage does. Your current will will remain valid but for inheritance purposes, your ex-spouse is treated as if they had died and won’t inherit or be the executor of your estate. But if your will hasn’t specified what happens following your spouse’s death, the rules of intestacy could be triggered. These rules may mean your estate is allocated in a way contrary to your wishes. So you should write a will after divorce to guarantee your estate goes to the people and organisations you wish.
Many people are impelled to make a will when they have children and take on the enormous responsibilities of parenthood.
Under the rules of intestacy, children are very likely to receive part of your estate if you die without a will. But a will can set out your specific wishes with respect to your children, especially crucial if they’re under 18. For instance, wills can specify who will become the guardian of your minor children should both you and their other parent die. A will can also set up a trust, which can be managed by a trustee to pay for their support and education, and given to them when they reach adulthood.
What happens to your home after your death will be a major component of many people’s wills. Your will can dictate who takes possession of the home or if it's sold and the proceeds of the sale are divided among several heirs.
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