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Lost the will? Go see your solicitor and sort it!

Corona virus has forced many of us to confront our mortality, but that also means facing up to the practicalities of making a will. Here's why you need to take action asap.

It’s not a cheerful subject, but with so many families having to confront illness and mortality in the coronavirus crisis, and 1 in 3 adults in the UK dying without a will, it seems like a good time to attack it. My own will is an embarrassing 13 years out of date – two of the couples I entrusted to look after my children in the event of my demise are now divorced and my youngest child isn’t even mentioned! But after getting Marilyn Gooch of Lightfoots LLP in Thame to do some practical myth-busting about wills, I’m going to sort it pronto. Hope this helps if you’re in a similar position to me.

 “I’m married so everything will go to my spouse or civil partner”
Only true if you do not have any living children or other direct descendants. If your spouse dies first, the law imposes a strict division between your living blood relatives.  If you have children then the amount that goes to your spouse will depend on the total value of your assets.  Anything over £270,000 is divided between your spouse and the children.

1

 “I’ve lived with my partner for over 20 years so they’ll get my estate when I die”
False.  A long-standing partner might be able to make a claim against your estate but they have no legal right to inherit.  Unless you make a will, the strict rules of intestacy will apply and blood relatives will inherit.

2

“My family know what I want – they will do the right thing”
Do they?  Will they? There is nothing like a death in the family to bring out sibling rivalries and conflicts over money.  Why take the risk? A professionally drafted will that clearly sets out your wishes is the safest way to ensure that your estate is left to the people or charities  that you’ve chosen.

3

“We separated years ago but never got round to getting a divorce.  He/She won’t be entitled to anything now”
False.  A spouse is entitled to inherit no matter how long ago you separated.  If you had a binding financial settlement at the time you separated, you may avoid them making a further claim against the estate but it is vital that you make a Will to ensure the estate goes to the beneficiaries you choose. 

4

 “I haven’t seen or heard from my son/daughter for years, so they won’t get anything from me”
There is no such thing as perfect family, but some are less perfect than others! Unfortunately, if you don’t make a will, then all your children, or their families, will be entitled to inherit your estate equally under the intestacy rules.  Making a will and leaving a letter explaining why the estranged child has been left out may not completely rule out a claim being made depending on the size of your estate but will certainly help to explain your feelings and reasons for choosing the beneficiaries of your will.  This is particularly important if you’re leaving your estate or part of it to charity.

5

 “My husband/wife would never disinherit our children”
Love is blind – so they say – and in the flush of a new relationship and the excitement of a wedding, making a will is probably the last thing to be thought of but this is where things can go wrong.  People wrongly assume that the will that they made with their husband or wife before their first spouse died still exists. This is not the case.  A marriage automatically revokes a Will.  The law assumes that the new wife/husband should inherit.  This can lead to great distress when the children of the first marriage discover they have been disinherited by mistake.  And of course, whilst the newly bereaved spouse might do the right thing, there is no guarantee that they will!

6

 “I don’t have any relatives to leave anything to so why bother”
There are many heir-hunting companies that make a living out of finding long lost relatives.  This could be a second cousin living in Australia, or an estranged aunt or uncle that you didn’t know existed!  Making a Will would avoid the expense of tracking down any relatives who might be entitled to your estate and gives you the opportunity of choosing friends or charities who could benefit from your estate rather than a stranger. 

7

“I can write my own will using a pack from W H Smith or online – it’s much cheaper”
Yes of course you can do this and it’s definitely less expensive.  But at Lightfoots LLP we’re continually having to deal with “homemade” wills that are not valid for one reason or another or fail to deal with assets correctly. The fees involved in sorting out the consequences of mistakes in homemade wills far exceeds the cost of having a Will made by someone who is qualified to do this work.

8

Lightfoots LLP, 1-3 High St, Thame, Oxfordshire, OX9 2BX.

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