There are various reasons as to why people put off making a Will. You might think you don’t need to worry about it just yet, or perhaps you assume you don’t need a Will because you’re married. Maybe you simply don’t want to think about something that can seem a bit morbid.
However, if you fail to leave a valid Will, you risk your estate being distributed in a way you wouldn’t have intended, as well as potentially leaving your loved ones with a lot of extra work, confusion and potential for conflict when you are gone. Many people misunderstand how inheritance works and don’t realise, for example, that a partner you are not married to has no automatic legal entitlement to inherit, even if you have lived together for years.
Our Wills expertise
Our experienced Wills solicitors have a wealth of knowledge in preparing a range of Wills, from the most straightforward to those involving trusts and other complex issues. We offer a friendly, expert service, aimed at making it as simple and stress-free as possible to get a Will that ensures your estate and loved ones are taken care of in the future.
As well as drafting new Wills, we can also review your existing Will to make sure it reflects your wishes, complies with legal requirements and minimises potential tax liabilities. This can be especially important when you have gone through a major change of circumstances, such as buying a new home, getting married or divorced, or having children.
The importance of making a Will should never be underestimated. As well as allowing you to choose who will receive your property, personal possessions and other assets when you die, you can nominate an executor of your Will to deal with your estate, appoint guardians to care for your children, and specify your funeral arrangements.
By making a Will, you will also relieve your family of having to make important decisions at what will be a stressful and distressing time.
How our Wills solicitors can help you
If you need to write or update your Will, please speak to our friendly, experienced Will writing solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. We’ll take time to listen to your circumstances to help you compile a list of assets and liabilities, and to prepare a Will that is carefully conceived and legally compliant.
We offer fixed-fee Wills for straightforward estates and a competitive hourly rate for more complex and high value estates. Please take a look at our pricing information to find out more.
Having a well-drafted Will in place is the only way to ensure that the things you own – your house, money, possessions, and other assets, known collectively as your ‘estate’ – will be passed to those you really care about. Be aware that any debts you own will need to be dealt with after you have died, too.
Knowing that you have a valid Will in place gives peace of mind that not only that you have put the right plans in place, but also that the difficult process of dealing with your possessions should be easier and far more straightforward for those you leave behind. In fact, clients whose Wills we have prepared tell us that they feel relieved to have got that aspect of their affairs in order.
When is the right time to make a Will?
What happens when a person dies without a Will?
Dying without having made a Will leads to far more uncertainty as far as the distribution of assets is concerned, as your estate will be divided according to the rules of intestacy. These intestacy rules dictate the order in which those close to the person who has died should receive parts of their estate. Intestacy generally favours spouses and civil partners, followed by children of the deceased, then grandchildren, parents, siblings and other close relatives, depending on the circumstances.
So, the real risk in not making a Will is that the intestacy rules will lead to an outcome that is different to the one you would have liked. For example, if you live with a partner you are not married to, they will typically have no right to inherit under the rules of intestacy. Or, if you have separated from your spouse but not yet divorced, they could inherit most or all of your estate, even if this would not have been your intention.
One other important point to bear in mind is that intestacy rules also apply where someone has made a Will but that Will doesn’t deal with all of their estate – a situation known as ‘partial intestacy’.
Who inherits when there is no Will?
The absence of a Will leads to the application of quite complex rules about who is entitled to what, and in what circumstances.
These intestacy rules entitle a spouse or a civil partner to inherit some of the assets of a person who has died, but there are specific rules about how much of the estate that person should receive. Major factors in who inherits will be the value of the estate and whether or not there are any surviving children. There may also be restrictions on a person’s entitlement to inherit the family home, depending on the form of ownership of that property.
The intestacy rules are extensive and nuanced. And you should be aware that they do not entitle close friends, carers, partners who are not married or in a civil partnership, or relations by marriage, to inherit anything. It’s something to bear in mind if you haven’t yet made a Will.
If you are concerned about the way in which intestacy could affect your family, we recommend speaking with one of our Wills solicitors in Bristol. They will explain the rules and help you take the right steps towards protecting your loved ones’ future.
What does it take for a Will to be valid?
To be effective, a Will must be in writing and must be signed and witnessed. The person making the Will must also have been in sound mind at the time they made it, and must have understood the Will’s terms and effects.
Wills are sometimes challenged on the basis that they are invalid; in other words, where it’s alleged that there has been some sort of problem with the way in which the Will was entered into. A family member who has been left out of a Will, for example, might raise an argument that pressure had been put on the person making the Will to leave assets to others.
Where a Will is found to have been invalid, the rules of intestacy will usually apply, although in some cases an earlier and probably out-of-date Will can be enforced instead. Either situation could lead to people other than those specified in your (invalid) Will benefitting from your estate.
Of course, another problem with a Will that is, or is claimed to be, invalid is that this can cause tensions within families. In the most serious cases, the rifts caused by a dispute over a Will can be irreparable, especially where the various parties end up relying on court proceedings to resolve the dispute.
How much does it cost to make a Will in the UK?
Our Wills solicitors offer a fixed-fee service covering advice on what should be included in your Will, and the drafting of the Will itself for straightforward estates. For more complex estates, we may agree to work to an hourly rate, in which case we will always agree any work to be carried out in advance, so you always have a clear picture of the costs involved and can keep control of your expenditure.
The basic rule is that a Will is a private document that only becomes a public document – available for anyone to see – once a grant of probate is made. A grant of probate is the official legal confirmation that the executor of a Will has the authority to deal with the estate.
While the Will remains private, there is no specific right for a beneficiary to see it. However, we would always advise a beneficiary to ask the executor for a copy. Under normal circumstances, most executors will be happy to provide a copy of the Will to a beneficiary.
What happens if you die without a Will and with no family?
Your estate will pass as ‘ownerless property’ to the Crown. It will then be up to the Treasury Solicitor to administer it.
In this situation, people may choose to lay claim to a part of your estate by bringing legal action. This can allow more distant relatives or people you were not related to by blood or marriage (e.g. an unmarried partner) to claim an inheritance from your estate.
What is an intestate succession?
Intestate succession is the name given to a situation in which a person dies without having made a valid Will and where the law steps in to enable the estate to be distributed. Testate succession, on the other hand, is the far more straightforward process where beneficiaries receive the estate under the terms of a Will.
Can a valid Will be challenged?
Even where a valid Will exists, it is still possible for people to challenge the Will under certain circumstances. Any dependant of the deceased who was excluded from the Will or is unhappy with the level of inheritance they received may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Commonly referred to as an Inheritance Act claim, this allows a spouse, civil partner, child still living at home or other dependant of the deceased to make a claim for ‘reasonable financial provision’ from the estate of the deceased. Exactly what may be considered reasonable financial provision will depend on the circumstances, but this can often be significant.
Inheritance Act claims can also be an option where the deceased did not leave a Will, allowing those not covered by the rules of intestacy to attempt to secure financial provision from the deceased’s estate.
Contact our Wills solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire
If you would like to discuss your personal circumstances – whether to do with your own Will, or the Will of someone else – contact one of our Wills solicitors in Bristol today. We work with people across Bristol and South Gloucestershire, as well as throughout England and Wales.