Bride and Groom

Bride and Groom

Roses are red, violets are blue

The big day approaches –so much to do

It may seem a strange time to be talking about Wills, with all the arrangements to make, the flowers, the outfits the guests and the honeymoon.  I hope these questions (and the answers) will help you to approach the issue in a positive frame of mind. They are some of those that I have been asked in relation to making a Will. I have put myself in the Groom’s place, so the answers assume I am talking to him.

1.    What is a Will?

It is a written statement by an adult who wishes to set out the way he wants his money and property to pass on his death. It can also deal with the appointment of guardians for his infant children and his funeral arrangements but in the main it is concerned with assets.  It must be signed by the person making the Will (he is called a Testator) and by two witnesses who must not be mentioned in the Will or be related to such persons.  It must be made at a time when the Testator is mentally capable of appreciating the nature of the assets he owns and the persons who he should include as beneficiaries even if the result might seem to others to be unreasonable or unfair.

2.    Who carries out the Testator’s instructions?

The Executors do this.  They are usually one or two persons such as the wife or children of the Testator, but professionals such as Solicitors are often appointed where the person has no close family or where the provisions of the Will are complicated perhaps because the Will creates trusts.

3.    What is the best time to make a Will?

There is no obvious answer to this question.  I suggest that you do so at a key stage in your life, such as when you are 18, when you marry or embark on what you hope will be a permanent relationship, when your children are very young, when they leave home, when you retire and certainly when your financial circumstances change, perhaps because your parents have died.

4.    Must I ask a Solicitor to draw up the Will for me?

No but the law relating to Wills and the administration of estates can be confusing for the unwary.  The fees will be modest; bearing in mind the trouble that will be caused if the Will is defective.  Solicitors make more money from cases where the terms of a badly drawn Will have to be implemented, than from the cases where a professionally prepared Will is involved.

5.    What happens if I don’t have a Will?

Two thirds of the people in Britain who die each year do so without having made a Will.  Many of these will be people who own relatively little in the way of a house, a life policy or a bank account.  In other cases, the amount of money involved can be large.  I am dealing with a case at the moment where the deceased had no spouse and no children. His parents, uncles and aunts were all dead. His estate was worth about £200,000 and it has been shared out between his cousins and their children, some of whom the deceased did not know, had never met and who did not know of his existence. You can imagine that the legal and other fees were high, as we had to trace all of his relatives, identify them and work out how much each of them was entitled to receive.  Having a Will should mean that all of these problems are avoided.

6.    Can an Executor benefit from a Will?

The answer is yes.  The rule is that a Witness (or the spouse of a Witness) cannot

7.    Where are Wills kept?

Most solicitors will store Wills for their clients at no cost.

8.    Can I get a copy of someone’s Will?

If they are alive then only with their (written) consent.  This can be a problem if they are mentally incapable. If they are dead, then when the Will has been proved (i.e. accepted by the Court as valid) then anyone can obtain a copy of anyone’s Will unless the deceased is a member of the Royal family. All you need to know is their full name and date of death.

9.    Is a Will valid in all countries?

No and so with the growth in the number of British citizens owning property abroad, you should discuss this issue with your UK solicitor and the equivalent person in the country where you have your foreign property.

10.    What is a Codicil?

This is usually a short document that alters perhaps one or two provisions in your Will, such as increasing a legacy (a gift of money or property) or taking account of a new grandchild. If more substantial changes are required, it is better to make a new Will.

11.    Can a Will be altered after the person has died?

Yes it can, provided all the people who would be worse off as a result (and are over 18) agree. This is usually done for tax purposes, but it can also be a means of resolving family disputes or correcting errors made by the deceased when the Will was prepared.

12.    What is a living Will?

This is an unhelpful term as what it refers to is really a document that sets out your wishes for health care if when the health care decision needs to be made you are unable to make it yourself.  A better term would be an advance directive.  You can also put in place a medical proxy. This enables you to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you when you cannot do so. It is always a good idea to discuss these matters with your family and your doctor.

13.    Where can I find out more?

The Law Society has a free guide on making a Will. You can download a copy on customerguides@lawsociety.org.uk and you can call the Law Society Probate Section on 0870 6066575. John Riddett can be contacted at Blocks Solicitors Telephone 01473 230033 www.blockslegal.co.uk/