In Depth

Why you need a will – and how WillAid can help

WillAid 2014 aims to get us thinking about our legacies. Here's why that's a good idea

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What would happen to your money, your home and your family if you died tomorrow?

On Saturday WillAid 2014 kicks off with the aim of encouraging you to reflect on that question – and make sure your answer is legally watertight.

In practice, what it means is that for the whole of November you can get a will drawn up by a participating solicitor in return for a donation to charity. It's therefore a great time to get your estate organised and make sure that should you die your assets are passed on to the people you want to benefit.

These days our finances are more complicated than ever. Many of us jointly own property with our partners or parents or have complicated family set-ups. Yet, despite these tangled finances only a third of UK adults have a will, according to a survey by SunLife.

If you die without a will you are classed as having died intestate and your assets are divided up according to the Rules of Intestacy, which were drawn up in 1925. So, they are quite dated even after some updating that took place this month. Under the current rules if you die without a will and are married or in a civil partnership without children your other half gets everything. If there are children then your spouse gets the first £250,000 and half of what remains with the rest going to your children. That sounds simple enough, but if your house is worth more than £250,000 this can leave your spouse facing the prospect of selling in order to give your children their due.

The people worst affected by intestacy laws are unmarried couples. If this scenario your partner will get nothing if you die. Instead your estate goes to your parents if they are alive otherwise you siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles or, if you don't have any of those the government. Imagine it, your mourning boyfriend or girlfriend having to sell up their home in order to hand over half the value of it to the government. Not a pretty picture.

So, that's why you need a will. Now how to go about getting one. A scrap of paper listing your wishes won't cut it. For a will to be counted it needs to be legally sound, signed, dated and witnessed. The safest way to make sure that having gone to the trouble of making a will it is watertight is to get it drawn up by a qualified solicitor. This isn't as expensive as you might expect.

Normally a single basic will costs about £140 if a solicitor does it. During WillAid you can get one done by a participating solicitor in return for a suggested donation of £95 for a single will, or £150 for a pair of mirror wills. Mirror wills are where two people get wills that are identical except they have each other named as the beneficiary – ideal for couples with straightforward finances. You can find out more about it and find your nearest participating solicitor at www.willaid.org.uk.

Once you have your will make sure you keep it in a safe place where your loved ones will know where to find it. If you get one drawn up by a solicitor they will usually keep a copy on file. Also, be sure to update it if your circumstances change. Dying without a will can lead to a difficult situation for your surviving loved ones, but dying with one that is out of date could lead to a family war.

Creative Commons image by Julian Rodriguez Orihuela

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