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Five common mistakes people make in their Wills

Harriet Meyer / 24 March 2016 ( 10 October 2018 )

Even small errors or mistakes in a Will can make it invalid. Guide to five common mistakes people make when writing a Will and how to avoid them.

Person passing a key to another person
Make sure that your property and possessions are passed on according to your wishes

Making sure you write a Will and keep this up-to-date if you have assets should be on anyone’s to-do list. But beware that even small errors or mistakes can result in a financial and emotional nightmare for those left behind.

There are plenty of high profile stories detailing the huge mess left behind by people dying without a Will, or with a woefully inadequate one.

What happens if you die without leaving a Will?

Here are five common mistakes people make in their Wills that show how important it is to get this right:

1. Failing to update regularly

Every time there is a big life event, such as marriage or the birth of a child, you should review your Will. 

Remember that an existing Will is invalidated when you marry. However, it remains in place if you split up unless you divorce. 

Review your Will every two years, or sooner if your circumstances suddenly change.

How can I reduce my inheritance tax liability?

2. Failing to factor in debts

Debts, including mortgages, can take a big chunk from an estate after death. If bequests are tied up in heavily mortgaged properties this can cause a legal wrangle for those left behind. 

Make sure your gifts can be given without serious financial complications.

A solution could be to leave gifts as percentages of the estate, rather than a particular sum. This way, if the estate is worth far less than anticipated, beneficiaries will still inherit a sum.

What happens if someone dies leaving lots of debt behind?

3. Relying on separate additions

If you want to update your Will, relying on a ‘letter of wishes’, for example, could cause problems. This is not a legally binding document, but one that executors can disregard. 

If there’s anything of a financial nature that you wish to leave, ensure this is updated in the Will itself.

Can you challenge a Will if you think it is unfair?

4. Failing to consider guardianship of children

You are able to name the guardian who will raise your children in your Will. Think carefully about who this should be – some may believe this is the same person as the executor, who will look after your estate. These are distinctly different duties. 

Also be aware that most people appoint a couple rather than a single guardian. However, what if they divorce and there are problems over who will care for your children? Naming a blood relative could be a solution.

For more tips and useful information, browse our money articles.

5. Be specific

Do you want to distribute your estate evenly among your children, or give larger a share to one over the other(s)? 

There are pitfalls to the second approach, which risks resentment after you’ve gone. Only you know what is the best scenario, but if there is any chance it’s not considered a fair split it’s worth detailing your decisions in the Will.

Finally, remember that jewellery or furniture could be far more valuable than you think. So it may be worth having items valued so you know exactly what you’re leaving as an inheritance.

Paul Lewis on giving to your children

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.