Why don’t People Make a Will?

OK, some do. But it seems that about three out of five adults in the UK don’t have a Will.

Failure to make any preparations for the aftermath of the one thing that’s certain in life (even taxes can be mitigated, if not avoided altogether) does seem a bit crazy.

I was always amused that when I was in practice as a solicitor, what seemed to prompt a number of clients to beat a path to my door was that they had a holiday planned – and ‘What if?’.

But surely you’re no more likely to die on holiday than being knocked down crossing the road at home …

So, why is it that folk happily make plans for things like: who to live with; where to live; how to bring up children; who to befriend; what job to go for/move to; how to invest any spare cash (including legacies they might have been fortunate enough to receive); building up a pension fund; voluntary work; hobbies; holidays; and so on?

And yet they seem to overlook the all-important thing of making sure that loved ones left behind on death know what they would like to happen with: who looks after the estate; funeral arrangements; caring for children, other dependents and any animals; dealing with a whole range of possessions; digital assets (including passwords); the home; and so on.

Here are some suggestions:

1. “It all seems so morbid.” To which of course the response is, doesn’t being sensible and kind trump any vain attempt to sweep under the carpet what simply won’t go away?

American comedian, actor and film producer Steven Wright may have said “I intend to live forever. So far, so good”, but no-one’s going to put money on him.

2. “I don’t have anything to leave.” But it’s not a question of value, rather of ensuring that what you do own will go to those you want to have it, maybe as much for sentimental reasons as for financial ones.

In any case, a Will ‘speaks from death’, by which time you might own a lot more. And a Will can and always should be reviewed, perhaps every five years, if not on any earlier significant change in family/financial circumstances or in the law.

3. “It would cost a lot.” A simple Will is surprisingly inexpensive to make – and think of the trade-off in terms of peace of mind.

OK, a bit of tax planning alongside it will cost rather more, but again can be seen as a sensible investment.

4. “There’s no need, as everything I own will go to my partner.” Well, it might or it might not, depending on the circumstances. It will if he/she is your spouse or civil partner, but only if you don’t also have children, in which case the Intestacy Rules provide for the estate to be divided 50/50, with half going to the spouse/civil partner and the other half to be divided equally among the children (at age 18 if minors).

So, depending on the value of what you own, you may find children inheriting property at a younger age than you would have wanted and indeed an unwelcome Inheritance Tax bill arising (which can’t be deferred by a post-death Deed of Variation to the extent that any children are under the age of 18).

And if the person you live with is neither a spouse nor a civil partner (that is, a so-called ‘common law wife/husband’), they will have no entitlement at all, including the right to administer your estate.

5. “I’m too young to be thinking about that right now.” But death is no respecter of age.

And if you leave minor children with no other parent surviving, your Will can provide a measure of emotional and financial security for them by appointing testamentary guardians.

Equally, whether within or outside the terms of the Will, with caring for any other dependents (an elderly parent, for example) or for animals. I shall be interested to read any contributions from others.

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