Writing a will is a job that not many people relish. But, once it’s done, it’s done. Right? Not necessarily. According to studies, the average useful lifespan of a will is around eight years. What does that mean? It means that, in many cases, within eight years of you writing your will something will have happened to cause you to need to change it. It won’t be the case with everyone, and a large number of people really can simply write their will and then forget all about it (apart from letting loved ones know where it’s kept, of course). However, wills do sometimes need to be updated, and if they aren’t then there can be problems when it comes to probate and executing the will.
When should you update your will?
If something major happens in your life, then think how that will impact your will. Marriage is one of these major life events, as is divorce. If either of these things occur after you have initially written your will, then you will most likely need to update it to include or remove people from it.
Children are another reason to update your will. It is likely that you will want them to inherit some or all of your estate, so they need to be mentioned in your will. Guardians are also an important aspect to include if your children are under 18. And if they turn 18 after you have written the will then the guardians should be removed as they will not be required.
The death of anyone who is mentioned in your will will also mean that it needs updating, and the same is true if you fall out with anyone who was originally meant to inherit. If you change your mind, change your will, otherwise the people you don’t want to inherit will do so anyway.
There is a lot of money owed by a lot of people in this world. Most of it is manageable, although not entirely pleasant. Some of it is difficult. A little is entirely impossible. But no matter the affordability of the debt that you have, there is something that you should know about it – it does not die when you do. Someone will still need to service that debt when you are gone.
Most of the time, it is your estate that will need to pay off the debts. If there isn’t enough money within your property and possessions, the leftover debt is passed on to loved ones. This is just one of the reasons why writing a will is so important. And it is a good reason to keep an eye on the debt that you are accumulating. Is it really worth it if it will become a massive burden to those you love when you die? You may think that by paying off the minimum from your debts each month is a good idea, giving you more in your pocket in general, and allowing you to save up money to leave to your loved ones. But that saved money will actually be needed to pay off the debts that are left, so you may as well get rid of them while you’re still alive.
Doing this will enable you to then go on to save money after your debt is paid, and that money will be able to be passed on to whomever you want it to go for. That’s a much better legacy than leaving a pile of unpaid bills for family members to sort out.
Signing the wrong will. It sounds like a mistake that could never happen, but in reality it does. It is essential that the testator pays rigorous attention to what they are doing and specifically what they are signing. Witnesses also need to look at the documents. Their presence isn’t enough; they need to know exactly what they are witnessing, especially if there is some detail that they missed which becomes part of a contestation of the will!
If you think that this doesn’t happen, that it isn’t possible, then the case of Marley v Rawlings might change your mind.
Mr and Mrs Rawlings prepared their wills at the same time. They each left their estate to their surviving spouse, with other beneficiaries inheriting part of the estate if their spouse had already died. One of these beneficiaries was a Mr Marley who, although not related to the couple, was regarded as a member of the family.
Unfortunately, what no one, including the solicitor and the witnesses, noticed at the time, and for some time afterwards, was that Mr Rawlings had signed Mrs Rawlings’ will, and vice versa.
When Mrs Rawlings died, her part of the estate went straight to Mr Rawlings without any problems. The mistake regarding the signature was not picked up at that point. It wasn’t, in fact, until Mr Rawlings also died that the error was found.
What did it mean?
In short, it meant that Mr Rawlings’ will was made invalid, which in turn meant that his estate became subject to intestacy rules. Mr Marley, therefore, was no longer able to inherit his share, since he was not a blood relation of Mr Rawlings.
It was touch and go as to whether the will would be able to be rectified when Mr Marley contested it. This was not purely a clerical error, such as a typo, which would have been easy to fix. This was a will that was, in reality, unsigned, at least by the person to whom it related. In the end, the judge found that, since Mr Rawlings’ intentions were clear, the will could be changed to reflect that, and therefore Mr Marley could inherit his share.
The court case took time, money, and energy to resolve, all of which could have been avoided if the solicitor, the witnesses, and the testators themselves had taken the time to read what was being signed.
Writing a will – or even simply thinking about writing a will – is a delicate subject, and not one that many people enjoy. It is a necessity, and once it is done it is a true relief, but the idea of it worries many.
So when Assist Law, based in Somerset, made unsolicited marketing calls to people who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), they caused annoyance and upset. The cold calls that they made resulted in 99 different complaints in 2016, and that large number meant that the company was investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Their findings were that there would have been many more cold calls made to people who didn’t raise a complaint – but that did not mean that they were not angry or upset about receiving the phone calls.
The confusion seems to have come from the fact that Assist Law used a third party to make the calls, and that third party assured them that the people they were calling had opted in for marketing calls through entering competitions or enquiring online. However, it was determined that this was not always the case. The ICO said that it was up to the company hiring the third party and overseeing the cold calling to ensure that no one registered with the TPS was being phoned.
The findings determined that Assist Law had been negligent as they should have checked who was being contacted.
They have been issued a fine of £30,000.
Writing a will is not everyone’s favourite activity, even though everyone seems to agree that it is important. One of the problems can be that people aren’t sure what to write in the will itself, or what to leave to whom. And if they have very few assets and possessions, it can feel like an even harder choice.
But simply by speaking to others about it, ideas can be formed and, in a group setting, more wills are written. Even if the conversation is about leaving assets or a certain amount of money to charity, for example – if one person says they are interested in doing so, others tend to follow suit. Or at least start thinking about it. Which is good news. In fact, research recently carried out at Bristol University found that one person stating that they were going to be leaving something to a charity in their will prompted a 40 percent increase in others around them choosing to do the same.
So should will writing become a class in school, or an extra credit module at university? Should all employers get their employees in a room and, as well as pension discussions, have everyone start talking about their wills? Would that work? Let us know what you think.
No one likes thinking about making their own will. It’s a daunting prospect. It’s frightening to think of our own mortality, and for many – apart from the perceived complicated nature of creating a last will and testament – it’s this thought that means that they put it off. And sometimes it’s put off until it’s too late.
Which is why for some people, the idea of a DIY will appeals. Completing an online form or filling in the details in a pack that can be found in the Post Office and various other places seems like an easy, practical, almost comforting solution to this big worry that many people have. If it can be dealt with that easily, people might think, then perhaps it not that big of a deal.
And although DIY will writing kits can be a great solution for some people, for others it’s not a good idea to even think about using one. If your estate is very simple, then a DIY will could indeed be a possibility, but if there is even a hint that the estate might be a little more complicated, then speaking to an expert and asking for help in drawing up a fully comprehensive will would be a better option. The old adage of you get what you pay for can certainly hold true when it comes to wills, and you don’t want your estate to be eaten up in legal bills because you chose to save money by DIY-ing your will in the first place.
The cost of a properly made will can be off putting – compare £10 for a DIY pack to £300 for a solicitor’s will and you can see why – but there is quality in that more expensive price. This can save time and money later on. And it can prevent squabbles between family members, which is the last thing anyone wants after a loved one’s death.
If there are any errors in a will, it can mean that the entire thing is invalidated. The number of mistakes found in DIY wills is, of course, much more than those found in wills that are checked over by a solicitor, or professional will writer. These mistakes include problems with witnesses (or forgetting witnesses altogether), neglecting to name a guardian, failing to sign the will, or forgetting to put money into a trust account that is mentioned.
Without a solicitor or expert will writer’s involvement, the will could even be locked away and not even found once the deceased has passed away. It might also never have been updated – an expert’s advice may cost more, but it tells you more as well.
It is said that the average ‘lifespan’ of a will is about eight years. This means that, eight years or so after you have initially written it, something within it is likely to be out of date. So although a will can generally be written and then ‘forgotten’, there are times when it is important to remember it, and update it. Otherwise, there could be serious problems and delays when it is time to execute the will and grant probate.
You should update your will if something major happens in your life. This could include a marriage. If you already have a will and then you marry, if you don’t specifically mention your marriage within the will then your will be revoked automatically. An update is also required if you divorce or separate. Unless you want your former spouse to receive part of your estate, you will need to ensure that they don’t with specific mention within your will. Or perhaps, despite a split, you still want them to inherit something. Making a will after the divorce will ensure that your family understand this is exactly what you wanted.
If you have children then you will also need to update your will, as it is likely that you will want them to inherit at least part of your estate. Once they have reached the age of 18, you will need to remove any part of your will that mentions guardianship, as they will no longer need it. Plus, once your children are 18 or over, they can be appointed as your executor, which may be something you want to do.
What happens if someone you wanted to inherit from you dies, or if you fall out with them and no longer wish them to inherit? They will need to be taken out of your will, which can have a knock-on effect on other beneficiaries.
If you receive a large amount of money, such as with an inheritance, you should have another look at your will as your estate might be subject to inheritance tax. If you are not sure, then don’t forget that you can make an appointment with a will writing expert (such as IWC) to go through everything with you, and ensure that your will is exactly as you want and need it to be.
Mention the word ‘will’ or the term ‘will writing’ and you might imagine that the majority of people would know exactly what you mean. However, you would be wrong. A survey recently carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support suggests that a huge 98 percent of people can’t actually describe what a will is really used for.
The same survey also said that although almost 70 percent of people like to plan ahead, and just under half are happy to talk about what they want to happen before, during, and after their death, still just 40 percent of the adult population of the UK have written their wills. And maybe the two things are connected – perhaps it is the misunderstanding about what a will is for that is causing people to not write one, when in reality everyone should do exactly that.
The misunderstandings that come with the idea of will writing include thinking that you have to be over a certain age (40 is the one that most cite) before you can write one. This is borne out with evidence that shows that 80 percent of 18-34 year olds don’t have a will compared to just 32 percent of those over 55. Another confusion is the cost of will writing. It is often assumed that will writing is a very expensive process, when in reality the cost of usually a lot less than people think.
But the problem comes when people think wills are solely about money. And those who have very little in savings or no assets therefore don’t think that a will is relevant to them, or their families. This is now the case, however. Wills are about more than who gets what. They can also set out what the deceased would like to have happen after their death, and this is especially important if children are involved.
If you are unsure about what a will is really for, and whether having one would benefit you or your loved ones, speak to an expert such as IWC for more information.
Did you know that, if you are unhappy with a will, bequest, or legacy, you can challenge in it court? A recent survey showed that around 40% of people had no idea they had this sort of recourse, or they thought it would be a ‘distasteful thing to do’ – even when the will itself was thought to be wrong. The older a person is the less likely they are to make any sort of challenge, even if they have been left out completely (this sometimes happens when there is more than one child in a family; the eldest child is left more than the others, if the younger ones are left anything at all).
But this may well be worth bearing in mind because reports show that 80% of challenges to wills are actually successful (although only 32% of wills thought to be unfair actually make it to court).
To challenge a will there must be a valid reason behind it. There is also a time limit, so it is important to seek legal advice as soon as you feel you have a claim; leaving it too long to at least check to see whether you might be able to change the will can cause you to miss out completely when there was no need for it. When you speak to an expert, they will be able to ascertain how likely it is you will win should you take the case to court (and therefore whether it is worth pursuing in the first place), and how much time you have left to put in a claim.
Just feeling that a will is unfair, or acknowledging that the bequest – if any – is not what you were hoping for is not a valid reason for challenging a will. However possible claims could come under not being sure that the signature belongs to the deceased, believing the witnesses may not have carried out their task correctly, believing that the will was written under duress, thinking that the true intentions of the will haven’t been understood, or if you haven’t been allowed reasonable provision. No one can be forced to leave someone something in their will, but there are occasions when this ‘reasonable provision’ should be adhered to.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can cause someone to decide to make a will. It’s one of those things that has been put off and put off, down on the to do list for another day. But every now and then something will happen that will bring writing a will right back to the forefront of the mind once more, only this time it’s followed by the determination to actually do something about it.
And it doesn’t have to be anything life changing that prompts this sudden need either.
A recent survey says that for one in five under 40 years olds it was the first grey hair that did it – that first grey hair sent them into a panic, made them think of their own mortality, and got them to finally write a will. It may seem strange, even a little silly, possibly somewhat vain, but however you feel (and maybe you even agree), the fact that they then went on to write a will is good enough. Wills are essential.
But it’s not just the greys that have forced people to realise just how necessary writing a will really is. Wrinkles do a similar job, as do unexplained pains in the back, knees, hips – anywhere associated with movement problems in the elderly. In fact, anything that makes us feel old, any reminder of how many years have passed (looking at childhood photographs, re-visiting old houses – even if we don’t go inside but simply drive by – and realising that the children of friends and relatives are children no more for example) can all have the same effect.
Apart from those things that make us feel old, big life changes can also prompt the need to write a will, and that’s as it should be. Marriage, having children and buying a house are three of the main happy ones, and the death of a friend or family member of around the same age is the big sad one. but even smaller things such as learning about inheritance tax and the problems it can cause can make people start to think. Will writing triggers are all around us.
When asked why they hadn’t made a will up to that point, most people responded with either that they hadn’t thought about it, or that they hadn’t had time. Others said it was because they had nothing to leave (were they sure about that?) or because they were simply too young to die. None of these are good reasons not to have written a will.