Five common excuses for not making a will

10 July 2012

There are compelling financial and emotional reasons for making a will. But why do so many of us shy away from it? We look at the top five excuses for putting off this important task and explain why they're misguided.

Fountain pen illustration

I'm not ready to make that kind of life decision

When it comes to important decisions - particularly financial ones - we tend to put them off, or make excuses: 'there's plenty of time' or 'it's too big a job'.

None of us likes to think about dying, but what happens if you put off making your will? At the very worst, the state could keep everything you own - loved ones get nothing.

“Making a will is actually life-affirming”, says Michael Yeates, Chief Executive of legal services provider Lex Futura, "rather like paying off your mortgage: that’s when you know all your hard work has paid off; it’s yours now and nobody can take it from you.  When you make a will, everything for which you have worked so hard (including your home) is protected; all your hard-earned assets will go to exactly the people you want to have them.  An up-to-date will, therefore, completes the circle of all the financial planning you’ve undertaken".

My family situation is complicated, I don't know where to start

This is a common problem, but a complex family situation should be an incentive to make a will. If you’re not married but living with someone, your assets will automatically go to blood relatives - not your partner - in the event of your death.  

The intestacy rules determine who will benefit from your estate if you die without making a valid will. If you are separated but not divorced, your spouse will still inherit regardless of your intentions. In England & Wales they would be entitled to your personal possessions and the first £250,000 of your estate and would have a life interest in half of anything after that. Children would inherit only if the estate is worth more than £250,000 and any new unmarried partner would get nothing.

"If you have no will, two things follow," says Edward Reed, private client partner at law firm Macfarlanes. "Firstly, it’s much harder for your grieving relatives to get control of your assets; secondly, rigid rules step in to fill the void and decree who gets what. A painful, practical consequence of that is usually a higher tax bill. Unmarried partners are the biggest losers."

I don't need a will, I own everything jointly with my spouse/civil partner

It’s sometimes true that property and investments would go to your spouse or civil partner, but what about any personal possessions that you might wish to pass on? Your grandmother's pearls might only go to the daughter who has always loved them if you set your wish out formally.

A will also goes further than just dealing with property. It allows you to appoint executors to deal with paperwork, organise funeral arrangements, and give to charity.

My circumstances are changing

It can be hard to focus on the long-term future when major changes, such as marriage, having a baby, divorce or retirement, are on the near horizon.
"Wills can be written to cater for things that are about to happen," explains Sian Thompson, Head of Wills and Probate at law firm Simpson Millar. "In contemplation of marriage for example, or to give everything to children who survive you."

Once you have taken a deep breath and those first few steps in making a will, you can revise it as often as you wish. The hard work has been done. And it is vital to review your will as you get older in any case. Your inheritance tax liability may change as you accumulate more assets or simply as the value of your house goes up.

Taking the first steps now means that you have done the groundwork. "A lot of my clients are surprised how straightforward the process is," adds Thompson.

I'm too young to make a will

Wills are not just for the elderly. If you have assets, and particularly if you have children under eighteen, you should use your will to dictate who those assets go to and who should look after your children if you, and anyone else with parental responsibility, die. It’s a sad fact that accidents and illness happen, and while we can’t control fate, we can control our finances.
"The unexpected could happen at any time," says Sian Thompson, Head of Wills and Probate at law firm Simpson Millar. "You might win the National Lottery, or receive an inheritance yourself. Equally I see sad circumstances where people are involved in accidents, receive a lot of compensation, then die a few years later. Their mother may have looked after them, but their estranged father gets all the money."

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About this article

Please note that the opinions and comments expressed by contributors in this article are personal and not necessarily those of Standard Life group (Standard Life plc and its subsidiaries).

This article has been written from an English/Welsh legal point of view, and you should take local legal advice if you are a resident elsewhere in the UK. It is intended for the general information of United Kingdom residents only, and may be subject to change. It does not constitute any legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. Readers should obtain their own professional advice on the suitability and availability of anything featured.

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