Making a will can seem like a daunting task and it may be all too tempting to simply put it off for "another day". There are many excuses given for not making a will, many of which are based on incorrect assumptions or a lack of understanding of the importance of writing a will.
Even if you do not have a vast amount of wealth, it is strongly advisable to have a simple will in place. It provides you with much greater flexibility and allows you to choose who will receive your assets following your death. Without a will, the division of your estate would be dictated by the default rules of intestacy as set out in law. This may not be how you intended your belongings to be distributed and could benefit individuals you did not want to inherit from you.
So, what protection does a simple will offer?
1. A simple will decides…who should inherit your estate.
A main advantage of having a simple will is that it allows you to clearly set out how you wish your estate to be divided after your death. In the absence of a will the rules of intestacy would be strictly applied to your estate and your assets distributed irrespective of your circumstances or wishes. The beneficiaries you had wished to inherit from your estate may not receive anything while those you did not wish to inherit might receive a large proportion of your estate.
For example, you may wish your spouse to inherit everything but if you die without a will they would only be entitled to a proportion of your estate. The remainder would pass to your children if you have any (though that might not be appropriate if they are very young or vulnerable). If you did not have any children, the remainder of your estate would pass to remoter relatives – even if you had not kept in touch with them or did not have a good relationship with them. Others that are important to you, such as friends or charities, would not receive anything at all. You can read here how an intestate estate would be distributed.
If you have a partner but are not married, a will is extremely important if you wish that partner to receive some or all of your estate. Many people wrongly assume that their entire estate will pass to their partner if they die without a will but unfortunately the rules of intestacy do not provide for this. If you are not married or in a civil partnership, then your partner has no automatic right to inherit a share of your estate, unless you have left a simple will. In some circumstances a cohabitant can make a claim but it is limited (you can read more on this here).
2. A simple will decides…who should care for your children.
A simple will is the ideal place to name the guardians you wish to look after your children should you die.
3. A simple will decides…who should be responsible for looking after your estate.
A simple will allows you to appoint someone you trust to wind up your personal affairs after your death (your "executor"). Without a will your next of kin may have to apply to the sheriff court to be appointed as your executor(s) and could be required to obtain an insurance policy before the court will appoint them. This can lead to delays and administration expenses.
4. A simple will decides…funeral arrangements.
A simple will can include specific instructions for your funeral, such as the type of service you would like; whether you wish to be buried or cremated; and a declaration specifying the person(s) you wish to make those funeral arrangements.
5. A simple will decides…inheritance tax planning.
Finally, making a simple will enables you to take steps to reduce the amount of inheritance tax which may be charged against your estate. For example, any assets left to a spouse or civil partner or charity pass free of inheritance tax but your estate would not benefit from this fully if some of it had to be distributed to non-exempt beneficiaries under the intestacy rules.
In summary, making a simple will gives you genuine control over the administration and distribution of your estate rather than leaving these matters to chance.