Richard Watson, Head of the Private Client team at Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors, gives you the benefit of his advice on why it is important to write a Will.
It might seem very unsettling, even morbid, to contemplate a Will so that, whilst many go through the first stage of planning one, they so often soon grind to a halt. The reality of the situation is quite the converse: once they have completed the Will, there is a feeling of relief, a sense that a box can be ticked and the huge reassurance that they have left things sorted for the future.
So what are the pitfalls of not having a Will? The first relates to the speed with which those left can access the assets of an Estate. A Will usually appoints an Executor whose role is to step into the shoes of the deceased. Whilst it may be necessary to get a Grant of Probate for dealing with large assets in an Estate, an Executor takes their authority from the Will and they have the power to act immediately. From a practical point of view, it is so useful to have somebody to take decisions straightaway. The stark contrast of intestacy is that no one has authority to act until a Grant of Letters of Administration is obtained. Even with a straightforward Estate, this is going to take months.
From a testator’s perspective, making a Will means choice as it gives them an ability to create a framework to pass on money and assets as is appropriate. Typically, in a “couple” situation, the first call is to ensure that the survivor is adequately provided for. Once that aspect has been dealt with, if there are children, normally a testator will want to provide for them or their issue. There is, though, subtlety in terms of who gets what and when; it may be that to skip a generation will assist in avoiding Inheritance Tax or that a testator is worried that a young adult gets too much money too soon.
The contrasting situation of intestacy is that statute dictates who in the family inherits. By definition, this “one size fits all” invariably leads to problems for those left behind. For instance, in the case of one of a young couple dying, leaving young children, far too little money may go to the surviving parent and too much to the young children and, perhaps, the most glaring problem of all is the fact that intestacy does not recognise the position of the unmarried partner, notwithstanding the duration of any relationship and that there is financial dependency. The only avenue open to such a partner then is to make an application to the Court under the Inheritance Act; at best, this is cumbersome, time consuming and expensive and, at worst, it can create damaging family rows.
Apart from family considerations, a Will allows a testator to make other gifts in recognition of what has been important in their life. Charitable giving is very important to many and one of the advantages is that it is a fantastic way to save Inheritance Tax. The bottom line is that for every thousand pounds given to charity, the cost to an Estate paying Inheritance Tax is merely £600 and, if we value the work which charities do, what better destination than to remember them when we are no more?