In recognition of Free Wills Month, Andrew Megson, executive chairman of My Pension Expert, stresses that we should not bury our heads in the sand when it comes to arranging a will
It is a common assumption that the British public are incredibly reserved. As far back as the Victorian era, other nations have often commented on – and made fun of – the reluctance of the UK population to address topics deemed to be vulgar, uncomfortable or controversial.
Although, this stereotype is not exactly unjustified. Indeed, a recent study conducted by YouGov discovered that a large majority (60%) of the population consider themselves to be reserved. To compare, less than a third (31%) class themselves as outgoing.
At face value, such behaviour may seem unproblematic; after all, there are very few people who enjoy talking about uncomfortable subjects. However, if we look a little closer, the cliché of the “British reserve” can be damaging in the long-term.
The topic of finances, for example, is renowned for making many people extremely uncomfortable, and consequently, friends and close family members try to avoid mentioning it. And wills are a particularly prominent example of this.
In order to create a will, issues such as health, relationships, money and death must all be confronted, which can be off-putting for many. And so, despite 82% of 18 to 50-year-olds acknowledging that wills are incredibly important in a separate YouGov study, only 31% have any form of formal will in place.
Clearly, something must be done to break this taboo.
Is a will absolutely necessary?
There are, however, legal measures in place to organise a person’s estate if they die without a valid will in place. Intestacy rules enable a person’s assets to be split amongst close friends and family members. Usually, the bulk of the inheritance would be left to the person’s spouse; or if they were not married, the parents, siblings or children would likely be allocated the estate.
However, this does not mean that a will is unnecessary. On the contrary, it is incredibly important if an individual wants absolute control over how their estate is divided up. As mentioned above, the intestacy laws favour close family members. So, if a person had a long-term, unmarried partner and dies without a will, their partner would not stand to inherit any of the estate; and of course, this can be extremely upsetting.
So, in short, wills are absolutely necessary to ensure an individual’s final wishes are carried out correctly. The key is to arrange a will as soon as possible, to offer peace of mind to all parties.
October offers the perfect encouragement for those keen to set their affairs in order. This month marks Free Wills Month – an initiative launched by several large charities, in partnership with participating solicitors, enabling over-55s in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have simple wills written or updated free of charge.
The main test, however, lies in understanding where to begin.
How to create a will
First and foremost, it is vital that consumers do not rush into any snap decisions when creating their will. Instead, they must take their time to carefully consider their estate and discuss how they plan on dividing it with their close friends and family. The benefits of doing this are twofold. Firstly, they give the owner a clear plan of what they hope to achieve with their will; and secondly, it ensures that other parties are aware of their involvement.
Once they have a clear idea of how they plan to divide their assets, it is important to consult a professional adviser about the formal write-up of their will. As is the case with any major decision, from investments to retirement finances, the technical details can be confusing. So, it will be beneficial to have a qualified professional to offer guidance throughout the process.
Indeed, professional advisers will take all aspects of someone’s estate into consideration when creating a will, and plan solutions to potential issues which may arise. For example, they will be able to make provisions for inheritance tax or even simple actions such as ensuring clarity of language within the will to avoid any discrepancies. No matter how trivial the issue may seem, in many cases, they can be difficult to overcome without the know-how of an expert adviser.
Finally, it is important to remember that every individual’s circumstances can change, and a will must reflect this. So, it is important for people to review their will on a regular basis and update it when necessary. This will help to avoid any confusion regarding the division of a person’s assets if they were to die unexpectedly.
Wills might seem like an uncomfortable, even vulgar, subject at first. Understandably, no one really wants to think about death, let alone how their possessions will be divided up. However, it is important not to bury one’s head in the sand and instead tackle the subject directly. Doing so will offer great peace of mind for the individual in question, as well as giving some reassurance to their friends and family.
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