October is Free Wills Month

In the UK, more than half of adults, a staggering 55%, haven’t written up a will. This alarming statistic extends to nearly a third of individuals aged over 55, according to wealth manager Brewin Dolphin. Furthermore, two-thirds of unmarried couples haven’t prepared their wills, posing a grave concern as unmarried partners don’t automatically inherit from each other unless they have joint property.

Therefore, whether you’re an unwed couple, a retiree or an average Joe, it’s important to write up a will. Doing so will ensure your loved ones are taken care of in the event of your untimely demise. But how can you craft a will without burning a hole in your pocket, or better yet, for free?

Free and Affordable Options for Making a Will

You’ll be glad to know that every October and March, a Free Wills Month promotion unfolds. The initiative presents anyone aged 55 and above with the chance to have a basic will drawn up by a lawyer for free. The only catch? You’ll be encouraged to make a donation to charity.

Similarly, charities like the Stroke Association (for those over 60) and Cancer Research have collaborated with solicitors across the UK to provide zero-cost will-writing services. These offerings are also open to IDDT members regardless of their ages.

An alternative path to affordable will writing presents itself every November with Will Aid. This wonderful initiative partners with lawyers who dedicate their time towards charitable causes. Although they recommend donations of £100 for a single will or £180 for mirror wills, you’re under no obligation to pay anything.

Guiding Your Decisions: Understanding Complex Matters and Selecting a Will Writer

To keep any complications at bay and ensure your will is watertight and legally sound, it’s generally advisable to engage a lawyer. Their expertise can effectively guide you through complex matters such as Inheritance Tax while assuring there are no errors in your will.

However, solicitor fees can vary with typical costs falling between £150 to £200. If you find that too steep, consider hiring a will writer. Remember, they’re not necessarily qualified or regulated like solicitors. Therefore, it would be wise to verify that your will writer is a member of a recognised trade body, such as the Institute of Professional Willwriters or The Society of Will Writers.

If your financial matters are straightforward, you could opt for the DIY will-writing approach. Stationers offer affordable kits, available from as little as £10. Spending a bit more, around £30, will afford you more benefits, like access to customisable templates and offers for free online storage.

Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that DIY wills can be intricate to fill out, and any inaccuracy can render your will void. Thus, unless you’re confident your needs are elementary, seek advice from organisations like Citizens Advice before taking the DIY route.

Essential Components of A Will

Before you embark on writing a will, give a thought as to what you want it to include. Take stock of your money, property and other possessions. Your life insurance policies, shares, savings, and pensions should all be taken into consideration.

Next, list out all your intended beneficiaries – those who you wish to bequeath your wealth and possessions. Make sure not to use nicknames and be as specific as possible. You might also wish to leave some money to charity.

If you have children aged under 18 (or under 16 in Scotland), ensure your will stipulates who will care for them after your passing.

Recent Legislation Changes for Wills: Witnessing Made Easier

Having a will properly witnessed is crucial for its validity. However, the ongoing pandemic has necessitated new legislation allowing for wills to be witnessed remotely via video conferencing platforms like Zoom or FaceTime.

This legislation, introduced in September and backdated to 31 January 2020, will stay in place at least until 31 January 2022, or longer if necessary. After this period, in-person witnessing will be the norm again.

Even with this change, the Ministry of Justice recommends using video witnessing as a last resort, urging individuals to arrange physical witnessing where it’s safe. Wills viewed and signed through windows, for instance, are considered legitimate provided the viewers have a clear sight of the person making the will.

Government guidelines are available on Gov.uk detailing how to execute the signing and witnessing of a will via video link. These include recording the will-making process, ensuring the witnesses are remotely present at the same time and delivering the will document to the witnesses within 24 hours for their signatures.

However, this new legislation does not extend to allowing electronic signatures on wills, due to concerns over potential undue influence or fraudulent activities.

Organising Your Affairs: Executors and Will Storage

When it comes to handling your affairs postmortem, you ought to name your chosen executors in your will. These can be relatives or friends, or even your solicitor. However, be aware that solicitors will charge for their services as executors, and you are not obliged to appoint them.

Usually, two executors are appointed, though you can have up to four. If you’re unsure about the role of an executor, information is readily available to guide you through the process.

Securing your will is as important as crafting one. Keep it safe at home – if you do store it at home, ensure someone knows its location – or store it with your solicitor, bank or at a storage facility like the Principal Registry of the Family Division.

Updating the Will: Circumstances Change and So Should Your Will

Remember, your will should be written voluntarily by someone of sound mind, aged 18 and over (or 12 and over in Scotland). It must be signed by both the maker and two witnesses, who also sign in the presence of the will maker. Note that these witnesses cannot benefit from the will.

Given that your circumstances can change over the years – marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or purchasing a home – it’s important to review your will regularly. Substantial changes, especially marriage, can invalidate an existing will. Amendments, or codicils, have to be witnessed in the same way as the original will.

Moreover, you should declare that all previous wills and codicils are null and void if you decide to write a new will.

Visit the Dying Matters website for more on will-writing, dying and bereavement. If you reside in Scotland, keep in mind that Scottish law on inheritance differs from English law; you can find further information on the Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland.

Misleading Cheap Wills: Check the Fine Prints

While affordability is desirable, beware of cheap wills with hidden costs lurking in the fine print. Several banks have previously enticed customers with seemingly affordable wills, subsequently burdening them with significant fees upon closer inspection.

It’s crucial to read your will thoroughly to ensure no institutions unjustly benefit from your estate. Keep your finances and estate plans in order, thus protecting your loved ones and securing their financial future. With everything in place, you’ll have peace of mind, knowing that your loved ones won’t be burdened with legal complications or financial hardship when you’re gone.