What is a will and why do you need one? Local barrister and mediator, James Miller, shares some important considerations.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document which dictates how you want your property to be distributed after you die. In order for your will to be legally valid, you must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Your will must be made voluntarily, signed by you and witnessed by two people in your presence in person or remotely (for example by video conferencing). You cannot leave your witnesses or their married partners anything in your will. Within your will, you will need to appoint an executor to administer your estate and confirm who is to receive your property. These individuals are classed as your beneficiaries. It is the executor’s job to pay off any debts, funeral expenses, legacies and inheritance tax (if applicable) before distributing the estate. If you have any specific plans, these should be included within your will. For example, you may wish to outline your funeral wishes or what should happen to any personal tangible property such as items of jewellery or furniture. You may also wish to appoint a legal guardian for any minor children should the unthinkable happen.
Why do I need a will?
There is no doubt that a will is one of the most important documents you will ever write. It allows you to choose the people who will inherit what you own when you die. When a person dies without leaving a will, their property must be shared out according to the strict rules of intestacy. A person who dies without leaving a will is called an “intestate person” and only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the rules.
If you die without making a will and leave no living relatives, your entire estate could end up going to the state. However, this situation can be easily avoided with proper planning in advance. By making a will now, your wishes will be made legally binding and you can have peace of mind. You are free to amend your wishes and alter your will as your life moves on and personal circumstances change.