Advanced search

10 reasons why you shouldn't delay making a will

Katie Alsop, of Wright Hassall, explains why it’s time to get your affairs in order.

Research conducted by Will Aid reveals that:father and son planting a tree in the garden

  • 53 per cent of adults living in the UK don’t have a will
  • 44 per cent of those who are married or in a civil partnership have not written a will
  • almost 70 per cent of cohabiting couples have no will

It’s important to appreciate the value of having a will in place. It very often takes a significant event to happen in life for people to address the issue of making a will, but here are 10 good reasons why making a will shouldn’t be put on the back burner.

1) Your estate will be dealt with the way you wish

If you live in England or Wales, you are free to write a will that leaves your estate to whoever you wish. If you don’t leave a will, the intestacy rules will govern how your estate is distributed. 

For married couples, it’s a common misconception that a will is not needed because assets will simply pass to each other on the first death. This is not necessarily the case where there are children.

For unmarried people without children, the intestacy rules determine which other blood relatives are entitled to your estate. There is a risk that those people who benefit under the intestacy rules would not do so if it were your decision. 

The intestacy rules make no provision whatsoever for unmarried couples. 

2) You can choose your executor(s)

By making a will you are able to choose who has responsibility for dealing with the administration of your estate (the executor(s)). Executors have immediate authority to deal with your affairs. If you are a sole director of a company, it clearly has great value if someone is able to make business decisions from the outset.

If you don't make a will, the intestacy rules will determine who is eligible to be appointed as the administrator of your estate, but it is necessary for a grant of representation to be issued by the probate registry before the administrator has any authority to deal with the estate, and this delayed acquisition of authority can cause problems.

3) There are tax planning advantages

With legal advice, wills can be structured to take advantage of any tax planning opportunities or maximise your chances of inheritance tax reliefs being available, which will reduce your liability. 

4) Your intentions will be fully documented

It is always helpful to document your intentions and the reasons behind them, so that if there is a dispute, there is a record of your thought process. Disputes relating to wills typically give rise to significant legal fees for either party or, in some circumstances, the estate. Contemporaneous notes in a solicitor’s will file may well avoid any challenge to your will being pursued, or being successful.

5) You can set out your burial or cremation wishes

If you have specific preferences regarding your funeral, your wishes can be included in your will. While funeral wishes are not legally binding, and your executors have the ultimate authority, it is unusual for wishes to be disregarded. If a dispute arises, your wishes will be given significant weight.

6) To make provision for dependants and minors

By writing a will, you are able to provide for people who are dependent on you or who are minors. For example, you may wish to put in place restrictions on the age at which a minor inherits. Under the intestacy rules, the age at which children receive their inheritance is 18, so by making a will this age limit can be increased.

It is also important to consider who you would wish to have responsibility for your child if you were to pass away, or if both parents were to pass away, and appoint a guardian. Legal advice should be sought, as there are different laws governing parental responsibility, dependant on whether the child was born before or after 1 December 2003. 

7) For setting up a trust

You may wish to establish a trust in your will. Trusts can be beneficial for tax planning reasons and also to retain control. For that reason, serious consideration should be given to who takes on the role as trustee.

Trusts can be used to make provision for disabled children and also in the case of second marriages, so as to provide lifetime security for the second spouse but ultimately protect the value of the estate for any children from the first marriage, should that be the intention. 

8) To address worldwide assets

If you own assets outside of England and Wales, you should make a will to ensure that globally your assets are dealt with as you would wish, as far as it is possible. Some countries have rules of forced heirship, and you should take advice from a solicitor who is familiar with advising about the law that governs the country in question. 

9) To make clear ownership of assets

When making a will, you should give consideration to the assets that you own and which you are able to dispose of. There are different ways of holding property in England and Wales, and this will determine whether an asset is within or outside of your estate, and if you require a will to deal with that asset. 

Additionally, if you are a partner of a partnership and there is a partnership agreement, you may be unaware that this overrides your will, so you need to consider them together to ensure that the will is effective. It's important to understand how the assets of the partnership are owned and by whom, so that ultimately, they are bequeathed to the intended recipient.

10) To make cash legacies and bequests of sentimental items

If you wish to make token cash gifts or gifts of personal items that may have sentimental value to other family members or friends, these bequests can be included in your will. 

Ultimately, making a will puts you in control of who benefits from your estate, who has the authority to deal with your estate, and allows you to fully document your intentions and wishes.

About the author

Katie Alsop is an associate at Wright Hassall LLP.