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Money matters: get your will right

Paul Lewis / 01 November 2022

If you don’t have a will, you have no control over who gets what when you’re gone. But November is the time to get one – for less.

Illustration of hands transferring a house
© Jacob Stead

Have you made a will? If not, then November is a good time to do it because dozens of solicitors all over the UK will write your will for free – in exchange for a modest donation to charity. They suggest £100 – or £180 for a pair of matching wills for couples. That is a fraction of the usual price but be aware that if your affairs are complicated, only the basic parts will be free.

Why bother?

Making a will is an act of kindness towards people you love or charities you care about. Without a will you and they have no control over who inherits what or how much they get. Worst case is that no relative can be found and the whole lot might end up in the estates of The King or the Prince of Wales. The details are different in Northern Ireland and even more so in Scotland. But wherever you live in the UK, the Crown gets your stuff if you don’t make a will and have no living relatives.

If you have no spouse (or civil partner), no children or parents alive, then the rights to your estate spread sideways to siblings. If there are none of them it moves out to uncles, aunts, half-blood dittos and their children. So everything could go to your long dead half-aunt’s adopted step-grandson who you only ever met once in your life and regretted that embrace for weeks.

If you live with someone but are not married or civil partnered and you do not make a will then they have no rights to inherit at all. There is no such thing as a ‘common-law’ wife or husband. However long you have lived together and whether you had six children, they will not inherit your home, your money or your valuables, and in the worst case can be left homeless and destitute. Even in Scotland, where the law is more sensible, the rights of bereaved live-in lovers are very restricted. They have to apply to the courts for a share of the estate within six months of their partner’s death with no guarantee they will get it.

If this inspires you to get married (or civil partnered), remember that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, any will you made before the happy day becomes invalid. Even in Scotland, where the law is different, it is always better to make a new will when you form a new relationship.

Even if you are married or in a civil partnership then your other half will not always inherit everything if you do not leave a will. If there are children, the surviving spouse gets the first £270,000 and then half of the rest. The balance goes to your descendants. In Scotland, the survivor gets more but not everything. If you have joint property and children from previous marriages, then things get very complex indeed.

Why use a lawyer?

In my job I speak to many lawyers and when I mention wills they all tell me the same thing: they make more money out of contesting badly drawn wills than they do out of writing good ones. That is why I say do not do it on a form you downloaded from the internet or through a will-writing firm. A solicitor knows how to do a will that is legally watertight and if they do get it wrong there is a compensation scheme your heirs can claim on. That is why Will Aid is so useful to get a professionally drawn will at very little cost.

How does it work?

The process is simple. Just go online to the Will Aid website and fill in a short form to get a list of local solicitors who are part of the scheme. You can then contact them directly to book an appointment. Do it soon, as available slots disappear fast.

Before your visit, it is important to know who will be responsible for sorting out your estate when you die. They are called your ‘executors’ and it is best to name a sensible family member or friend who ideally is also a beneficiary of the will.

Proving an estate, as it is called, is an administrative job rather than a legal one and anyone used to office work should be able to handle it. You can get a bank or a solicitor to do it for you, but they will charge a percentage of everything you leave and may not keep your family properly informed. So it is better to pick someone you trust. If they meet any knotty problems they can always pay a solicitor for an hour or two of their time to sort them out.

You should also make a list of your finances, including your home, money, investments and any valuables. Don’t forget your debts, such as a mortgage, loans or credit cards. Finally, decide who you want things to go to. If you are leaving more than £325,000 in total, your solicitor should be able to explain what tax, if any, may be due. If you own your own home there is an extra allowance of up to £175,000, so as much as £500,000 can be tax-free. If you are married or in a civil partnership, everything you leave to a spouse or civil partner is free of Inheritance Tax. When the second partner dies their heirs will get double the tax-free allowances. That does not apply to people who simply live together. The Will Aid website has a useful Will Planner, where you can write these things down to speed up the process when you meet the solicitor.

This annual Will Aid event has raised more than £21 million for charity since it began in 1988. The nine international and UK charities helped include Sightsavers, Age UK, Save the Children and the British Red Cross. You can make your donation to Will Aid at the solicitors or online.

Find more information on Will Aid here

FYI - Keep your will or a copy of it in a sealed envelope marked ‘Do not open until I am dead’ and tell your loved ones where it is.


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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.