This week (23rd – 29th January) is Update Your Will Week, an awareness campaign hosted by Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) to encourage more people to update their will and ensure their wishes are carried out when they die.

In this piece, Associate Stuart Price answers some questions relating to this year’s campaign.

What is the key reason people should ensure they have an up to date Will?

A Will is likely to be the most important document you will ever write. It determines to whom all (or most) of your assets will pass on your death. Not only this, it also confirms who has the responsibility to deal with your estate after you’re gone and, importantly, who will be the guardian of any young children you leave behind. 

If you don’t write a Will, statute law instead determines all of the above, including to whom your estate will pass. This might mean that your estate passes to somebody whom you would not wish to benefit from your assets. In other words, making a Will (and ensuring it is kept updated) is the only way to guarantee that your wishes will be put in place when you die.  

Equally important as writing a Will is ensuring it is kept up to date. You should review your Will every few years to check you remain happy with it. Relationships change over time, and who you wish to benefit today might not be the same as it was five years ago. You may go on to have more children, or your assets might also have changed, meaning some of the Will doesn’t function as expected. 

Why do you think so many people do not have a Will?

People don’t like to face the fact of their own mortality! I think it’s as simple as that for many people. For others, it’s the perceived complexity or simply being busy with ‘everyday life’. It’s very easy to keep pushing ‘make a Will’ to the bottom of the ‘To Do’ list. 

Many people get caught up on the details and delay getting a Will drawn up because they have been unable to make a key decision. This can be especially true when it comes to emotive decisions such as who would become guardians for your children –  this may be even harder to contemplate for parents of a child with disabilities, But it doesn’t have to be that way – often sitting down to write a Will can help you reach that difficult decision naturally as you progress. Indeed, if you see a solicitor they will support you every step of the way and offer advice to help you reach a decision on a difficult areas.  

Why are campaigns like ‘Update your Will Week’ so important?

Unfortunately, no one is going to cheat the grim reaper and will, sooner or later, need a Will. Campaigns like ‘Update your Will week’ gently remind people of that fact. This year’s campaign feels especially strong to me, as Solicitors for the Elderly are drawing attention to some really impactful – and quite shocking – statistics, such as the fact that more than 7 out of 10 parents in the UK have no legal guardian in place to care for their children in the event of their deaths.    

As a Private Client Lawyer, how do you help clients prepare for the future?

I help people make the difficult decisions, perhaps decisions that they have been agonising over for many years. This include not only writing Wills, but also advising clients on inheritance tax issues and helping them mitigate inheritance tax, if they have an appetite for that.  

I recommend that all of my clients consider preparing Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs). These are documents under which you appoint somebody to make decisions for you if you can no longer make them for yourself (for example, through a decline in mental incapacity). They’re a bit like insurance policies and they’re absolutely vital. I always say that you’d rather have an LPA and never need it, than not have one and need it! 

I take great satisfaction in watching a relieved and reassured client walk away, safe in the knowledge that their affairs are neatly in order. I find that clients find an enormous sense of satisfaction and peace of mind, knowing that they have properly put in place plans for the future.  

Why is it so important to use a specialist / professional?

It’s really easy to make mistakes. Succession law is a complex area. Simply, you don’t know what you don’t know. It doesn’t even need to be a mistake on a point of law to matter either; even witnessing a Will incorrectly can completely invalidate a Will, leaving you at the mercy of the intestacy provisions. The internet is awash with so-called ‘free Will’ templates, but I’m sure most people understand that using one of these comes with enormous risk –  when it comes to properly ensuing your loved ones are looked after when you are gone, and ensuring your estate is passed on to where you want it to go, why take that risk?  

Have you seen any example of individuals and families where a Will has not been updated and it has caused difficulties?

I see ineffective or out of date Wills all the time and they can cause serious problems. The big and all too common situation is where somebody is married, has children but then is widowed or divorced. That person then remarries, but does not update their Will. On that person’s death, all the estate will pass to the new spouse and nothing will pass to the children. Often this is completely unintended and can cause devastation and heartbreak for families. I see other very common problems; perhaps naming an executor who has now died, or including a legacy to a person who is no longer in their life. My advice is simple; write a Will and keep it up to date! Using a specialist Will solicitor is the best step to achieve this and you can always go back to them (easily, and efficiently) in order to make updates to your Will should your circumstances change over time.  

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Stuart Price

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