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3. Your Will – The Essentials

The vital things are clarity and certainty.

The Will should be witnessed by two (disinterested) individuals both present with you, so they sign after you sign.

Last week’s Post No. 4 discussed the all-important appointment of Executors.

Stating your full name and address, you revoke all former Wills and state that it is the Law of England and Wales which applies (or, as slightly different, the Law of Scotland or of Northern Ireland). Once you have made your new Will, you should destroy any former Will(s).

You can include any funeral wishes. Alternatively, or in addition, you can cover these and any further details, eg as to a service or a memorial gathering, in a Letter of Wishes.

You might like to appoint testamentary guardians of any minor children who survive both parents. As with Executors, this should be discussed in advance, with financial implications considered, as well as any wishes for upbringing. Similarly, you might want to make provision for any dependent relatives who live with you or who you look after. Letters of Wishes can be useful here.

You could make cash gifts or legacies to named individuals or (with the benefit of relief from Inheritance Tax) UK registered charities.

Then there are gifts (‘bequests’) of certain types of property eg, jewellery or pictures or even a house or a flat. Here you should consider whether the bequest is free of Inheritance Tax (which would fall on residue) or whether the recipient pays the tax.

The gift of residue (‘what’s left’ after paying off Inheritance Tax and other debts and gifts under the Will) goes to your Executors to hold on trust to distribute to one or more individuals, perhaps in prescribed proportions. Or you could create a right to income (with power to advance capital) and an ultimate gift of capital.

Then there is a range of administrative powers given to your Executors. It is common to import these by reference to a commonly accepted list published set up by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).

In particular, ensure that you have made reasonable provision for a surviving cohabiting partner and anyone treated as family or being maintained by you, to avoid the possibility of any claims on the estate post-death under the Inheritance (Provision of Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

Letters of Wishes can be used in a range of circumstances. While not binding such letters will be in practice treated as such. They have the advantage of being much more informal than the Will, both in not having to be witnessed and being easier to change yourself. Up-to-date versions should be kept with your Will, ideally with your solicitor.

If you own a house abroad, it is essential to have a second Will made under that other jurisdiction by a local lawyer.

It is not a bad idea for all the family to know what is in your Will.

The above is a very bare summary!

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