Wills and Testament Advice from Bristol and West Financial Services Ltd
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Wills and Testaments
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document where a person, names one or more persons to manage his or her affairs and estate. In “olden” times, it referred to property, and a Testament referred to personal property, hence the term now used “Last Will and Testament”.
If someone dies without making one, they are said to have died “intestate”. If this happens, the law sets out who should deal with the deceased’s affairs and who should inherit their estate (property, personal possessions and money.
Writing a one is one of the most important things you will ever do. If you do not have a valid will. Your property and belongings (your estate) will be distributed according to the Laws of Intestacy. If this happens, it will be unlikely to follow your wishes. It will prove very costly and take longer than if there were a valid will in place.
The most important thing to do
Most people assume that their spouse gets everything when they die ‘so don’t need one’. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. If a husband dies without a will for example, the remaining wife and perhaps children, cannot access his bank accounts, or savings (unless a joint signatory) until probate has been completed. Which can take months without one. This is bad enough, but if people come out of the woodwork claiming a share of the estate. It can then run into years!
Having a valid one in place provides for a number of key areas to protect both you and your family.
If you have children under 18, who would care for them if something were to happen to you?
Many people think that next of kin would automatically step up, but if they are too old or not physically able, the courts would rule against that eventuality. Siblings would be the next obvious choice, but they may have children of their own, and not have space to take on any more or the funds to take on such a big commitment. See Guardianship case studies.
Do you have step children?
Under the rules of intestacy, stepchildren are not entitled to anything from your estate without a valid will being in place.
There may be certain gifts you would like to give to particular people, such as an engagement ring to your son or daughter, or a classic car that you spent years lovingly restoring, maybe even a gift to a charity. Or you may have a family pet that you want a family member to take on and care for? These are all things to be included.
The remainder of your estate is called the residue. This may be your house or houses, your cars, life insurance policies, bank accounts or investments. Even the contents of your garage! Your Will is a legally binding document. It stipulates where these things will go on your death, where you ultimately do not want it to go. You can also specify an exclusion from your estate as well.
A sobering thought. Some simply leave the decision to the hands of the executor (the person(s) dealing with the disposal of your estate). Some may prefer to name specifics, like requesting bright colours to be worn, or certain flowers to bring or what music they would like to be played.
What happens if you already have a will?
When was it made? Is it still valid?
These are very important and very valid questions. Each case is different. For example, if you made a will 10 years ago, and named an executor, or beneficiary, but they have since passed away, then your will is no longer valid.
If however, you made a will, 10 years ago, and the only change is that you now have grandchildren, it is still valid, but your grandchildren will receive nothing from your estate when you die. You can only assume that your children will pass on to your grandchildren. This can be a problem in itself. If one or both of your children are unreliable with money, or have a drug or alcohol dependency for example, or huge debts, your grandchildren are unlikely to inherit anything from your estate ultimately.
It should be reviewed every 3 – 4 years. This does not mean that you need to make a new one every 3 – 4 years, it simply means review! You may wish to change your address, or add an executor or a wish for your funeral. These are all simple amendments.
To make your wishes legal