The business of writing a will is one that many people neglect, with potentially damaging consequences. A fairly simple process, one which can be done without lawyers if the right legal advice is provided, is often left undone.
Major consequences could follow. An obvious one is that family rifts can emerge as disputes arise over who inherits what, while issues such as the future care and education of children left behind may be another issue, not least for anyone who dies a sudden and untimely death.
Such a matter may not be the sort of thing most will want to think about. After all, the majority of people in Britain live to a reasonably old age at least. But the reality is that such things can happen and that those who have not made preparations beforehand could leave behind a range of problems.
A case in the media of someone dying young at present is that of Jade Goody. In her case, having a terminal illness has at least given her the time to make plans for her sons, which involved not only a will but using her remaining time – and celebrity status – to raise more money for their future. In her case, this included an exclusive magazine deal with OK! Magazine to cover her wedding. Most people will not be in the position to earn extra cash in this way, but it may be more relevant to note that because Jade's situation has arisen from a protracted illness, there has been no chance of a sudden departure without plans being put in place.
But just writing a will alone is not enough. Important provision must be made to deal with particular issues. One significant concern many will face is inheritance tax (IHT). In its advice to those writing wills, the Newcastle Journal notes a number of important points concerning IHT.
Firstly, there is no IHT payable on any assets left in a will to a spouse of civil partner, so this is one way of ensuring there is no 40 per cent rake-off to the Treasury. Another fact mentioned is that there are tax reliefs and exemptions that will scan take advantage of, including business or agricultural assets. The paper suggested that it is important that those planning for this make sure any necessary adjustments are made to deal with legislative changes concerning such matters.
Other measures can also be used, such as the proceeds of a life insurance policy on a mortgage that has lapsed being put in a trust for the children or other family members, something that will also ensure the surviving partner does not incur an IHT bill for this when they die.
Avoiding a higher than necessary bill is even mentioned in the government's own advice on why people should write a will. While there are ways in which the document can minimise or eliminate such costs for a spouse or civil partner, the absence of a legal recognition of cohabitation can also be overcome. This could be achieved by ensuring that the desires of the deceased concerning their partner's inheritance are legally established and enforced via the will.
So when it comes to writing a will, getting good advice is crucial. The best of all may be the simple instruction to start now, to protect against an unknown future.
Published on: March 20, 2009