Most of us haven’t written one. But it’s crucial that you leave your financial affairs in order when you die.
You might carefully hand out money in line with the inheritance-tax gifting rules and fret about whether or not you should set up a trust to protect your wealth. But have you taken one of the simplest steps to avoid an inheritance-tax bill? A will is a powerful weapon against the taxman and yet the majority of us have never bothered to write one.
If you die without a will your estate is subject to the laws of intestacy. If you are married this means jointly-held assets pass to your spouse, but the rest of your estate is divided up between your spouse and your children. Your spouse gets the first £250,000 plus half of the remainder, with the rest split between your children. The problem with this is that if everything goes to your spouse there is no inheritance tax due, but if the amount passed to your children exceeds £325,000 then they will face a tax bill. Write a will and you avoid this problem.
Another reason to have a will is to ensure your money goes to people you love. Without one your money could pass to an ex-partner you haven’t divorced yet, or a distant aunt rather than your long-term partner. Unmarried partners are not included in the laws of intestacy so they would receive absolutely nothing.
There really is no excuse for not having a will. It doesn’t need to be a complicated process and these days it is far from expensive. Indeed, for the next two months you can get one drawn up by a solicitor for free. “The gold standard, solicitor-drafted will can cost in excess of £150, yet November is dedicated to ‘Will Aid’: a scheme whereby over 500 solicitors across the UK will draft you a will for free in the hope you’ll make a donation of around £100,” notes Martin Lewis in the Daily Express. What’s more, October is Free Wills Month, when over-55s can get a will written or updated for no charge in the hope that you will give some money to charity in your bequests.
Unsurprisingly, free wills are popular so “anyone interested in either scheme needs to act fast to ensure they get a slot”, says Laura Shannon in The Mail on Sunday. You can find participating solicitors at freewillsmonth.org.uk or willaid.org.uk.
Once you have your will don’t forget to keep it up to date. Marriage invalidates any previous wills, but divorce doesn’t. Also, make sure your will is stored somewhere safe where it can easily be found when you die.
The cheap and easy options
If you can’t get an appointment to get your will written for free there are other options.
You can pick up a do-it-yourself will-writing kit on the high street for around £20. But this is only suitable for people with very simple financial affairs and it is easy to make mistakes that could render it invalid.
A better option may be a fixed fee will-writing service. Prices at Which and Co-op Legal Services start from £99. If you have a premium bank account, check if a will-writing service is included. Santander and NatWest both offer cut-price will-writing to premium customers. You could also be entitled to a free will through your home- or car-insurance policy if you chose to include legal cover, says Moneysavingexpert.com. More Than’s legal service add-on for home insurance gives you access to a will-writing service.
You could also use an online service such as Farewill.com. You answer questions online in order to create a will. It is then checked by a specialist before you are sent a link to download, print and sign. You’ll pay £90 for a single will or £140 for a joint will. An added benefit is you can pay £10 a year annual subscription that allows you to update your will whenever you like.