Crafting a complete will: What should you include?

Thursday June 22nd 2023

writing a will

This article has been written by Joe Cobb, Head of Wills, Trusts, Tax & Succession Planning at JMW Solicitors

Having a legally sound and comprehensive will in place is a critical step in safeguarding your loved ones and ensuring your assets are divided as per your desires. A will can prevent the potential legal battles that might befall your family after your death by granting you the power to control your estate beyond your lifetime. Here, we delve deeper into the intricacies of a will, exploring its essential components and the aspects every will should cover.

Understanding the Basics of a Will

A will, in the legal sense, is an authoritative document that communicates a person’s final wishes concerning their possessions, dependents, and sometimes even their funeral arrangements. Its primary function is to guide the allocation of assets and properties, specify care for any young children, and appoint an executor responsible for administering the will’s directives.

The importance of a will cannot be overstated. Without one, the laws of intestacy will govern how your estate is distributed upon your demise, potentially leaving your loved ones in a precarious position. Having a comprehensive will in place is the only assured method to ensure that your estate and loved ones are cared for exactly as per your preferences.

Essential Elements of a Complete Will

In your will, you must state explicitly how you want your assets and property to be distributed amongst your beneficiaries. From your savings and investments to your personal items and real estate, it’s vital to be as detailed as possible to avoid any ambiguity.

Any confusion about asset distribution can lead to disputes or legal battles amongst your beneficiaries. In certain cases, it might even necessitate court intervention to decide how your estate should be divided. To avoid this, ensure your instructions are clear and comprehensive.

However, writing a will involves more than simply stating who you want to receive certain aspects of your estate. See below the essential factors you need to consider when making your will:

1. Naming an Executor

The executor of a will plays an immensely critical role. This is the individual appointed in a will to manage the estate of the deceased. They are the person who will navigate your affairs through the probate process, which involves distribution of the estate to the named beneficiaries, settling any outstanding debts and taxes, and fulfilling other tasks as specified in the will.

Choosing an executor is not a decision to take lightly. Given the responsibilities and complexities involved, it is crucial to select someone who is trustworthy, diligent, and capable. Often people select close family members or trusted friends, but you may also choose a professional executor such as a solicitor.

2. Identifying Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries are the people or organisations you name in your will to receive your assets, property, or other specific possessions. In the absence of a will, or if beneficiaries are not clearly identified, the laws of intestacy will decide who inherits your assets.

A clear identification of your beneficiaries is key to avoiding potential disputes and confusion. It is recommended to mention their full names, addresses, and their relationship to you. You can also leave assets to charities, friends or even pets if you so wish, hence why explicitly stating these beneficiaries is essential to ensure your intentions are carried out.

3. Specifying Guardianship for Minors

If you have young children, your will should specify who you appoint as their guardian in your absence. This is an incredibly significant decision that should be given careful thought. The chosen individual should be trustworthy, caring, and capable of providing for your children’s needs. It’s also wise to discuss your intentions with the proposed guardians to make sure they are willing and prepared to assume this responsibility.

Importance of Clarity in a Will

A well-drafted will is easily understandable. It must be devoid of unclear phrases, and any language that could potentially be misconstrued. A will filled with ambiguity can become a breeding ground for disputes, disagreements and potential court battles amongst beneficiaries.

To ensure your final wishes are carried out seamlessly, your will must be unambiguous, specific, and easily understandable. Be transparent in your intentions and use language that leaves no room for interpretation.

However, there are certain legal requirements and terminologies that must be adhered to for a will to be legally valid. As such, consulting with a solicitor can be an invaluable step in the will drafting process. They can help ensure your intentions are clearly and effectively articulated, and your will meets all legal criteria to be upheld in a court of law.

The Necessity of Updating a Will

Life is a series of changes. Significant events like marriages, divorces, births, deaths, property acquisitions, and even changes in financial circumstances can greatly affect the relevance of your will.

For instance, if you bequeath certain assets to a spouse from whom you later get divorced, it’s essential to update your will to reflect this change. Similarly, the birth of a child or grandchild may inspire you to adjust your will’s provisions. As such, it is advisable to review and update your will regularly – every few years or following a major life event is the recommended time.

Making amendments to a will after it’s been created involves a legal process known as a codicil. This is essentially a supplement to a will that can add to, subtract from, or alter the provisions in the original will. However, if the changes required are extensive, it may be advisable to create a new will altogether. These processes are best handled with the guidance of a solicitor to ensure your will remains legally valid and adheres to the laws governing wills in the UK.

Seek Legal Advice

Drafting a comprehensive and legally sound will is an important task that deserves thorough attention and thoughtful consideration. It ensures that your final wishes are honoured, and your loved ones are provided for, even in your absence. Remember, your will is a reflection of your final wishes, so make it as clear and specific as possible.

Engaging the services of a legal professional to help draft your will can be invaluable. They can offer you advice tailored to your situation, ensuring your will is legally compliant, comprehensive, and able to withstand any potential challenges.

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