Do you need a will?

There may never seem to be a right time to make a will but it’s an important job. If you die without one – it can make things harder for your family

Senior woman working at her desk
(Image credit: Getty images)

You MIGHT feel you’re too young to make a will or not got much to leave but if you die without leaving a will – it can mean your worldly goods are shared out according to the letter of the law.

Four in five UK adults under the age of 35 don’t have a will according to Royal London.  And while more of us tend to make one as we get older, by the age of 55, one in three people still hasn’t made a will. 

Writing your will may never be a fun job, but it’s an important one and can save your family from a complicated and lengthy legal process as well as extra upset at an already emotional and difficult time.

Sarah Pennells, consumer finance specialist at Royal London said: “The main reason for writing a will is to set out how your money and possessions are divided up when you die”.

“If you die without a will - known as “dying intestate” - your money and possessions will be passed on according to the rules on intestacy. This could be very different to your wishes”.

On a practical basis, this can mean those whom you would want to benefit don’t get anything, or your family can be saddled with a costly inheritance tax bill. 

And even if you have made a will, it’s not a case of job done, as it’s still important to review your will at different life stages, especially after big events like getting married or divorced, starting a family or if you come into large sums of money like an inheritance.

Why do I need to make a will?

Your will is your chance to say how you want everything you own, known as your ‘estate’, shared out.   

This includes any property you own along with savings, pensions, investments and personal items, like pieces of jewellery or family photo albums. 

Providing it’s made properly, writing your will can save family squabbles and put a stop to claims from anyone who feels they ought to be entitled to something, but haven’t been included. 

What you decide to put in your will is up to you. You can choose to leave everything you own to one person, share it with different members of your family and friends or even leave the lot to charity, but whatever you decide, it’s important to make your wishes known and make them watertight in a will.

If you don’t have family or don’t want them to benefit, it’s still worth making a will, even if you leave the lot to charity, as in the worst case, if you die without a will, everything you own could end up in the Government coffers.

What’s the risk of not having a will?

Sean McCann, chartered financial planner at NFU Mutual said: “If you die without a will, your ‘estate’ – which means everything you own - will be distributed under the laws of intestacy”.

These are strict rules laid down in law and may mean family or friends who you may have wanted to inherit won’t be able to.

Ms. Pennells said: “If you live with your partner but aren’t married to them or in a civil partnership, they have no automatic right to inherit and would have to go to court in order to make a claim. This can be emotionally and financially costly.”

“Likewise, if you have step-children, they do not have the right to inherit under intestacy rules, unless you have formally adopted them”.

Without a will – the whole process of winding up your estate becomes much more complicated for your family, as well as potentially more costly and time consuming.   

If you make a will, you need to appoint one or more Executors.  These are people you trust, who can take on responsibility of sorting out your financial affairs. 

If you the absence of a will, your closest living relative, usually your husband, wife or civil partner - will need to apply to be the administrator of your estate, before they can begin the process of winding up your estate. 

Do you need to make a will if you are married?

You should still make a will, even if you are married, or in a civil partnership, as if you die, everything will not necessarily automatically go directly to your husband or wife. 

Under intestacy law there are strict rules that state who gets what along with limits if there is no will in place.

Darran Harrison, Wealth Planner at financial services provider Kingswood said: “If you’re married or in a civil partnership and you die intestate (without leaving a valid will), your spouse or civil partner will only receive your personal possessions, along with – all of the rest of your estate if you have no children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, or the first £270,000 of your estate, if you have children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, plus half of the rest of the estate. The other half of the rest of the estate will go to your children.” 

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Sue Hayward

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound.  Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!