Article written for The Journal Family Law supplement
“I’m not afraid of death – I just don’t want to be there when it happens”.
It has to be one of Woody Allen’s best one-liners. Most people don’t want to think about their own death: one third of us die without having written a will and half of us aged 45+ have no will. Dying “intestate” risks leaving the people you love the most unprovided for, and leaving a larger slice to the tax man than necessary.
“Writing a will isn’t morbid – it’s the best thing that you can do to protect your family should something happen to you”, says Cliff Veitch, a partner and specialist in wills at David Gray Solicitors. “Your Will gives you the opportunity to help your family deal with your affairs and your estate when you aren’t here to do so. It allows you to say who you want to manage your estate, and who you want to receive your assets – whether that is cash, property or items of sentimental value. If you want your daughter to get Grandma’s silver teapot that you cherish – write it down!”
A will is very important if you have children under 18. You can nominate a Guardian in your will to look after your children. Like life insurance, preparing for the worst can be a comfort and help you get on with living.
But, it’s vital to make sure your will is clear to avoid mistakes and disputes. Cliff continues“A badly drafted will can be worse than no will at all. Your will must be clear and concise. When the time comes you won’t be here to tell your family what you intended and why. If you choose not to remember a close family member in your will, it can be crucial to have an explanatory letter stored with your will.
“A will can’t be challenged simply because someone is unhappy or feels short changed. It can be challenged if there is evidence that the person who signed the will was pressurised or, for example, had dementia. It can also be challenged if a dependent family member is financially cut off. This could be an oversight or because of a change of circumstances, but it does leave a will open to challenge – which is not how anyone wants to be remembered.
“A will isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution and it isn’t a once in a lifetime event either – wills need to be reviewed regularly. If you are separated but not yet divorced, you should make a new will: otherwise your estranged spouse could benefit significantly. It’s easy to forget about a will, but dying with no will or the wrong will can cause both heartache and big expense for your family which can be easily avoided”.