In the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis we are getting many enquiries from both existing and new clients who are concerned at ensuring their wills are valid, or are looking to put wills in place if they haven’t already done so.
We have prepared this brief Q&A to answer some of the more common queries we are dealing with in connection with making or updating your will.
I don't currently have a will. Do I need one?
If you don’t have a will your property will pass in accordance with a set of laws commonly known as the "intestacy rules". These statutory rules will determine how your estate is divided – the outcome depends on the size of the estate and your individual family circumstances.
There is an online resource at https://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will where you can enter basic information and obtain guidance as to how your estate will pass in the absence of a will.
Note that any assets you hold jointly with someone else (such as a joint bank account) will pass automatically to the joint owner. Be careful though – some jointly-owned properties are held as "tenants in common", and don't automatically pass to the joint owner.
Depending on your family circumstances and asset position, the combination of the intestacy rules and joint ownership of assets may be sufficient to deal adequately with succession to your estate. If this is not the case then you will need a valid will.
I made a will some time ago. Do I need to update it?
If there have been no material changes to your asset position, family circumstances or anyone named in the will as an executor or trustee, then there should be no need to change it now.
If an executor or beneficiary has changed their name on marriage, or there have been changes of address, there is no need to change your will. However, it's helpful to make a note of such changes and keep it with your will.
If you made your will more than say five years ago then it would generally be sensible to review it to ensure it's still up to date.
I'd like to make a minor change to my will. Do I need a new will?
Minor changes can be made by a codicil to your will. This would typically include a change of executor, or changing the amount of a legacy.
Note that the will and any codicil(s) become public documents after death, so if you don't want the change to be apparent (for example, if you have reduced or revoked a legacy) sometimes a new will might be appropriate even for a relatively minor change.
For more fundamental changes a new will is usually recommended.
What do I need to think about when putting in place a new will?
A will is by its nature a bespoke document which needs to reflect your individual circumstances and objectives.
However, there are certain standard elements that typically make up a will and it's worth giving some thought to these if you are looking to put a new will in place:
- Executors – these are the people you nominate to deal with your estate after death and carry out the terms of the will
- Guardians – if you have minor children it is common to include the appointment of guardians in your will, though this can be done separately as well
- Gifts – these are typically cash legacies, or gifts of items such as jewellery or other chattels
- Charitable gifts – usually in the form of a cash legacy
- Residue – you will need to specify how your executors are to deal with the remainder of the estate after payment of inheritance tax, liabilities and any legacies
What are the formalities for making or changing a will?
Your will or codicil must be in writing, signed by you in the presence of two adult independent witnesses, who must then sign in your presence and the presence of each other.
Clearly this may present challenges if you are self-isolating, but the rules are strict – for example, if you sign your will and then arrange for two witnesses to sign later that would not be valid.
You must also have the necessary mental capacity to make changes to your will.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss making or changing your will, we're here to help.