September 28, 2013
Millions of people risk leaving their grieving families out of pocket by failing to make a will.
New figures from Legal & General show that more than six in ten do not bother – an omission that can see money awarded to the wrong people or the taxman, and loved ones left with nothing.
To prompt more people to act, solicitors across England and Wales are offering their will writing services for free in October to people aged 55 and over, in the hope that those taking part will take the opportunity to leave a gift to charity.
The ‘Free Wills Month’ deal is also open to those who already have a will but want to amend it; perhaps because they have divorced and remarried.
But writing a will is valuable to people of all ages – as Lady Mary Crawley, from ITV’s Downton Abbey, discovers after her young husband Matthew is killed in a car crash and she finds that there is no will in place.
Another initiative, Will Aid, gives all adults the chance in November to have a will drawn up by solicitors, who will give up their fee in return for a donation to charity.
Shirley Rabbetts, a partner at Harrison Clark Rickerbys law firm in Worcester, is signed up to Will Aid. She says: ‘It’s your chance to make clear how you would like your estate to be divided at the time of your death. In the absence of a will, the Government effectively dictates how your estate is distributed – and that is a one-size-fits-all approach.’
Creating a basic will typically costs £150 to £200 plus VAT – or between £250 and £300 plus VAT for mirror wills for a couple. They are a loss-leader for legal firms, which hope clients might appoint them as executors of their estates or provide other legal services.
The recommended donation to Will Aid is £90 for a basic will or £135 for mirror wills. Wills can be created for free using templates from a stationery shop or the internet – but skipping advice altogether is risky.
Carol Mason, of Morecrofts solicitors in Liverpool, says: ‘Homemade wills or those put together by inexperienced and unregulated will writers are more likely to be challenged.’
New companies are springing up online, however, that use the expertise of qualified solicitors but at cut-price rates. For example, Quality Solicitors, which offers free wills to the over-55s from fully qualified solicitors, hopes that clients will remember their chosen charity Barnardo’s in their wills.
Lawrence Britt, 59, from Norwich, recently used Rocket Lawyer, an internet company offering legal documents that customers can create online and have checked by on-call lawyers if they so choose.
Lawrence, a programme manager at a higher education college in Norwich, says: ‘There’s a history of problem wills in my family. We thought my uncle hadn’t made a will but one was later discovered tucked away in a Spanish map. It led to a complicated family dispute.
‘This is one of the reasons I was prompted to write a will myself. It was easy and I didn’t have to pay anything.’
Ignoring a will puts children at risk
There can be serious financial consequences from dying intestate – the term for dying without a will. Children from previous marriages, for example, can inadvertently be cut off and partners excluded. Or it might be left to a judge to decide who cares for children.
Carol Mason of Morecrofts solicitors in Liverpool warns that unmarried couples are not covered by the rules of intestacy, which means a partner is not entitled to inherit. If a married person dies without a will, then a surviving spouse inherits the first £250,000 and the rest passes to children and is divided equally.
Any sum higher than £325,000 – known as the nil-rate band – left to children is subject to inheritance tax at a rate of 40 per cent. However, you can leave everything to a wife or husband in a will tax-free.
When the surviving spouse dies, they inherit their late partner’s nil-rate band and up to £650,000 can be bequeathed to their children free of the death tax. Gifting 10 per cent or more of your estate in your will to a recognised charity also reduces the tax rate to 36 per cent.