First of all, you should know what happens if you die without having a valid will in place.
In that case your estate - be it big or small - is subject to the Rules of Intestacy. These rules determine where your various assets go and in most cases that will not be what you wanted to happen. Follow this link for more information: Intestacy - who inherits if someone dies without a will? - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
For example, a "Common Law" partner receives absolutely NOTHING without a will. The only exceptions are any assets owned jointly on a Joint Tenancy basis. These might include a house or a joint bank account.
Another example which is really very important, is that many people assume that any children under the age of 18 will be looked after by a friend or relative. Yes, they will come under the control of their mother or, if the father has parental responsibility, he will be able to look after them. If he lacks Parental Responsibility or both parents are dead, the children will automatically come under the control of the Court of Protection and will initially be placed in care rather than going to a relative.
Both these pitfalls are solved by a simple clause in your Will.
Within your Will one or more Executors should be named. It is their job to arrange your funeral, collect all the assets, note all the liabilities, apply for the Grant of Probate and, once it is granted, distribute the assets in accordance with your Will. They also have responsibility for paying any Inheritance Tax (IHT) to HMRC.
Children under age 18? You must appoint one or more Guardians to look after them while they grow up and no doubt cost their Guardians a small fortune. If you want the children to live happily you should consider arranging a basic life assurance policy to help with the costs.
There are three types of bequest that you may want to include in your Will - Pecuniary, i.e. money to friends, relatives and charities etc - Specific items to certain people such as jewellery to a daughter and lastly, the residue (everything else not already mentioned). Don't forget your pets.
Not legally binding upon your Executors, but nevertheless of importance to your family, are your funeral wishes. Is your preference for burial or cremation? And do you have any special requests in this connection.
When it is all written down and you are happy with the document it needs to be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses. It doesn't work until that happens. It is important to note that a witness must be over age 18, have full mental capacity and not be a Beneficiary or a spouse / Civil Partner of a Beneficiary.
Finally, never make changes to a Will or staple anything to it as the Probate Office may refuse to accept the document which means your estate will fall foul of the Rules of Intestacy.
Once you have made and signed your will it is automatically revoked if you later get married / form a Civil Partnership unless you add a specific clause to the will when making it.
If you divorce your spouse or dissolve a Civil Partnership the law assumes that your spouse or Civil partner has died before you and they receive nothing when you die.
Where to keep your will? many people keep them at home, ideally in a safe or fireproof box. You can also store them with the Probate office for a small one off fee. See this link for more details: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/store-a-will-with-the-probate-service.
Whatever you decide – don’t lose it or all your planning will have been for nothing! Photocopies are not accepted by the Probate Office.
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