If 2020 has taught us one thing, it’s to prepare for the unexpected. Covid-19 has shown us first-hand that there are many things we can’t control. But, the flipside of this is that there are also things we can – and making a Will is one of those. November is Will Aid Month and if you haven’t got your Will in place, or it needs a freshen up, this could be a perfect opportunity to get your affairs in order.
We spoke to Dodd’s Solicitors to find out what involved in writing a will and how to take advantage of National Will Aid Month.
First things first, tell us a little about yourself and your role at Dodds Solicitors?
My name is Susan Fletcher and I am a Wills and Probate Solicitor at Dodds. I qualified as a Solicitor in 2001 and since then have worked at various firms where I have increased both my knowledge and expertise in this area of the law.
2020 has been an unpredictable and unprecedented year for everyone, have you noticed any trends in the creation or updating of Wills during lockdown? For example, have you had an increase in clients making or changing Wills?
Yes definitely. We have seen a big increase in new clients wanting to create their first wills and also those wanting to update their existing ones. I think the situation gave people a bit of a reality check and probably made us all think a little bit about our mortality.
Thinking about our own mortality isn’t something we normally relish, but it can often be cathartic and give you a sense of confidence that your loved ones won’t inherit a mess. For someone yet to make a Will, let’s go back to basics. Why is it important and when should we be considering making a Will?
A lot of people think that making a Will is just about deciding where their money and property will go when they die or that it is something that only concerns older people. This is not the case. For most of us, the most precious things in our life are our children. Making a Will gives you the opportunity to decide who will take care of your children if the worst happens and you are no longer around to bring them up yourself. It does of course also allow you to decide who will inherit your property and when they will inherit. You also have the opportunity to decide who will actually deal with your affairs (the ‘Executors’), for instance if your potential beneficiaries are children. A further benefit of making a will is that, in some circumstances, it will give you a chance to preserve your assets – both from Inheritance Tax and potentially from care home fees.
You die. What’s the difference between what happens next if you DO or you DON’T have a Will in place?
If you do have a Will then your wishes are clear and your family and executors can simply carry out these wishes. I think the fact that you have decided to make a Will is also quite comforting to your loved ones. At their time of loss, which is understandably distressing, your family do not have the added burden of not knowing what your wishes are. If you do not have a Will then a set of rules called the ‘Intestacy rules’ will apply. This may mean that your estate will pass to people who you would not necessarily want to benefit from your Will.
What questions should we be asking of the person handling your Will? Is there a list of do’s and don’t’s?
Not really, I think the main thing is to not to overcomplicate things if you can. I would discuss with my client the extent of their estate i.e. what they own and what debts they may have. Perhaps most importantly, I would then discuss with them what they would like to achieve. As an experienced Solicitor I would then be able to advise them on how their goals can be achieved and the various options open to them.
Many of us have complex estates – be that business assets, or dependents or both. What can/can’t you include in a Will? Are there any limitations?
There are no limitations as such but it is important to realise that the law in this area is not always straightforward. Failure to make provision for a partner or child can potentially lead to a claim being brought against your estate. This again is something I would advise on if necessary. It may seem silly to say that you cannot leave things in your Will that do not yet belong to you – for example a future inheritance. However, whatever forms part of your estate at the date of your death will pass under your Will provided that it is worded correctly.
Have you ever encountered any particularly unusual requests in any clients’ Wills?
Yes quite a few. The most unusual often relates to funeral wishes. A client of mine wished to be cremated and for her ashes to be shot up into the sky in a fireworks display so in her words “she could go out with a bang!”
Have you noticed any common misconceptions around Wills or anything that clients often don’t realise?
Clients tend to think that they cannot have the same people to be their executors and beneficiaries. They can and most of the time it actually works better that way. Another common misconception is that you can control what happens to the gift once you have died. It is not unusual for a client to say that they wish to benefit an adult child but do not want the money to go to the child’s spouse if the adult child subsequently dies. The only way to retain any sort of control over the assets is to create a ‘Trust’. Although this makes the Will slightly more complicated it can be a useful way of ensuring that the client’s wishes are carried out.
You are taking part in Will Aid Month, who qualifies for this and how do they take advantage?
Everyone is able to take part there are no limitations. They can look on the Will Aid website (https://www.willaid.org.uk/) for a list of participating solicitors in their area or alternatively contact us directly to book an appointment for November when Will Aid runs. Appointments are live for booking now.
Why do solicitors get involved in Will Aid Month and what made Dodds Solicitors particularly get involved?
It is a scheme which is set up by Will Aid to raise money for the charities they support. We choose to take part each year as it is a great way to give something back and raise some money for these charities. It also enables us to meet with new clients who we may not have otherwise met.
If we want to make a Will outside of the Will Aid Month Scheme how much would it cost?
This varies between firms but anywhere from £120.00 – £180.00 plus VAT.
Once we have our Will signed, how often should we be updating it?
There is no set rule but we recommend clients to review their Wills every couple of years to check it is still fit for purpose or indeed when life events and circumstances change.
Should circumstances change, as they often do, for example a couple get divorced, what happens if you haven’t updated your Will?
It may not be fit for purpose – when you get married, divorced or have more children it is important that you have your Will reviewed. Marriage, for instance, revokes a Will so the consequences of not taking advice could be quite catastrophic. This is particularly say where this may be a second marriage and you have children from an earlier relationship who you would want to benefit. Unless you make a new Will everything may simply pass to your new spouse.
We all lead hectic lives and keeping track of important documents is essential but where and how is the best way to store our Will safely?
We always advise clients to keep their original Wills stored with their solicitor so they are safe from any damage or loss. Copies of the signed Will can be stored by the clients at home in a safe folder but if this gets lost or damaged it is ok as the solicitor will hold the original.
If readers want to take advantage of Will Aid Month and want to speak to a Wills expert at Dodds Solicitors, how can they get in touch?
They can call us on 0116 262 8596 or email us at [email protected] to make an appointment.