I was helping clear a family home after one of two life partners died. ‘If only I knew how to make a legal will,’ the survivor told me ‘I could have stayed on and retired here. But you see my partner died intestate, and because we never married everything has to go to auction.
I come across tragic incidents like this surprisingly often in the south of England. I am sure I posted about writing wills before. However, I decided it was time for an update to incorporate new court decisions. So without further ado, how do you make a legal will in England that’s watertight?
Stage One: Understand the Big Picture
The will you write dictates what happens to your money, property and possessions after you die. At that stage you can’t influence proceedings, and so you have to get everything spot on while you are alive.
If you forget to mention what happens to the family pets, an executor may make a blunt decision. I do apologise if that’s too close to the bone but at least it makes this point. If you die without a will, then someone else decides.
Managing Inheritance Tax
None of us likes paying more money than we have to Her Majesty’s Government. Therefore it is important to understand how to make a legal will that is also tax-efficient. Follow this link later to learn more. Let’s stay with the topic!
Avoiding Legal Potholes
If you make a will you suspect is going to disappoint someone, then rest assured they may register an objection. It’s your money and you have the right to choose what happens to your estate. However, there are things called legal precedents and you don’t want things dragging on forever.
Signing and Witnessing the Document
Therefore, and this is important ask a legal adviser to cast an eye over what you write, because that is all that is going to count. They should not charge if you make them your executor. And they can also act as impartial witnesses when you sign.
What to Include to Make a Your Will Legal
A will is a binding legal document you can’t change after you pass on. However, it cannot express what you want to happen, unless you say so in the document. Here is a handy checklist to consider:
List Your Assets
Make a list of all the assets that are legally yours. These may include property title, financial assets and investments, and the rest we can lump together as possessions. You don’t have to list every teaspoon and pair of socks separately.
However, there may be particular memories you would like someone to inherit. If you have valuable items, you may like to share them equitably. I offer an expert valuation service in case you are interested.
Nominate Your Beneficiaries
Avoid any confusion regarding the identity of your beneficiaries. Include full names and addresses so your executor can identify them confidently. If they have an NHS number so much the better. If you are benefiting a charity provide their registration number.
Write down which assets should go to each beneficiary, or alternatively what proportion of your estate each should receive. You also need to apply your mind carefully to any beneficiaries under 18. How should you protect their interests when you are gone?
Remember Your Dependents
You may have children under 18, or other friends / relatives who rely on you for emotional / financial support. Consider creating trusts on their behalf that remain in place until – if ever – they obtain full control over their lives.
Avoid Trying to ‘Control from Beyond the Grave’
Take care not to attempt to ‘inflict your will’ on other people when you make your legal will. This includes your executor, and people you nominate to care for your dependents, even family pets. Negotiate in advance. Be prepared to create a fund to compensate for additional expenses.
More to Remember When You Make a Legal Will
Before a will can be legal it must comply with these six criteria:
1… You must be older than 18 years of age.
2… You must make it voluntarily of free choice.
3… You must be of sound mind and know what you are doing.
4… Your will must be in writing (free hand or printed).
5… There must be two witnesses aged over 18.
6… All three of you must sign together.
The above rules apply equally if you decide to change your will later. If you feel uncomfortable about any of the 6 criteria seek qualified legal advice. Remember your witnesses or their married partners may not inherit anything under your will.
That about wraps the topic up. I can’t over emphasise how important it is to get the details right, while you still have breath. William Shakespeare may have left his second best bed and the furniture to his wife. But nobody seems to know who got the best one!
Preview Image: Use a Proforma Document