Have you made a will? If so, well done. You'd be surprised how many people have not got round to it.
Click on a heading to find out more.
Got married? Divorced?
Have you got married or divorced since you made the will? If so, then unfortunately you almost certainly have to start again, so you will need to make a new one.
I don't need to bother...
This is just one of the traps that can trap the unwary in the area of will making. Another one is the notion that many people hold if they don't make a will when they die all their property will go to their husband or wife.
This is not true. It is true that some of it does, but not necessarily all of it. That depends on what other relatives you have and how much you leave when you die.
There's also tax that you need to think about. It's all very well knowing in your own mind where you want your money to go, but a good lawyer would be able to tell you that if you give it to them outright you might be landing yourself with one tax bill, whereas if you go about it in a slightly roundabout way you may well find you have a much lower tax bill.
That does not mean of course that you have to do it the way the lawyer says. That is entirely up to you, but at least it's nice to know these things so that you can make an informed choice.
The grateful(?) recipients
What about the people you want to leave your property to when you die? Is it sensible to leave them it? Are they going to fritter it away? Is there something you can do to try and make sure that they get the money if they're going to use it sensibly, but still with some sort of protection against them recklessly squandering it?
Such things are possible, but only with proper legal advice. And again on the basis that not everything is necessarily a good idea to do just because it can be done. The important thing is that you're aware of it and you make the right decision for you.
A good lawyer will advise you on all this and you alone. A good lawyer will not take any notice of what your family members may or may or not want, or whether it's in their interest to receive what you want to leave them, or what they might do with it, or anything of that nature. That's entirely something for you to decide, unless of course you specifically want the lawyer to address that issue, in which case he can do so.
It might be that your proposed beneficiaries want their own separate advice about what they are going to do with the money if and when they get it. There's no reason why that should not be provided as well, but that's a separate thing. It is of no concern to your lawyer. Your lawyer will prepare your will looking at your circumstances alone, and nothing else. They will let you make the decisions unencumbered by what anybody else thinks should happen.
Or do it yourself
Bear in mind that there is no law that says you have to have a lawyer to draft a will for you. It's perfectly legal to do it yourself. It is however also quite a risky strategy.
Wills are not terribly expensive to have drawn up, especially if it's a straightforward will, but they can be quite technical to create, and to make sure that they are signed and witnessed properly in accordance with the law. The sanction for not doing this properly is that the will is absolutely invalid.
There is no 'half way house' here. You either get it right or you get it wrong, it's as simple as that. So its worth paying a lawyer to make sure that it's done right, given the possible consequences of getting it wrong.
Leave it to the experts
Quite apart from the strict legal formalities, there is a much more important reason to instruct a lawyer to prepare your will for you. lawyers are experts at writing things down in such a way that the meaning of what is said cannot possibly be misinterpreted by anybody at all.
For example, one of the first cases that lawyers are taught about when they first go off to law school at the very beginning of their careers is the chap who made his own homemade will leaving all his estate 'to mother'. He knew exactly what he meant and it never occurred to him that anybody else would think anything different.
But when he died a big argument broke out between his mother, i.e., his parent, and the woman who he was accustomed to calling 'mother', but who happened to be his wife. So, he was very clear in his own mind that he was leaving his money to mother, but he clearly had not anticipated that other people might not quite understand whether he meant his real mother or his wife.
These are the sorts of pitfalls you can get into if you attempt to do your own will. The fact is that a will is of no legal significance whatsoever until you are dead, at which point you are no longer around to tell anybody what you really meant. So get the job done properly by a lawyer, just for peace of mind's sake.
Having done your will, you'd be very wise to review it every so often, especially if your will has been drafted with any cunning tax reduction possibilities in mind. This is because the government has a habit of changing the rules all the time, not just tax rules, and so you have to keep on top of these things. Or to be more precise your lawyer will do for you.
Additionally, if you have any change in your circumstances, such as marriage or divorce, or if you have any new children or grandchildren, etc, or you suddenly become a lot richer, because you've won the lottery or received an inheritance, or maybe it's the opposite and you become much poorer, so you have to think far more carefully about how to spread your diminished assets when you go. In any of these situations see a lawyer and get your will reviewed.
Altering a will
If you decide after making a will that you want to alter it, you have to do that properly as well. You cannot just scribble on your will any alternations, they will not be legally valid, however clear they may be. Nor will crossing things out in a will have any legal effect. If you want to revoke or alter a will you have to go through the proper legal procedure to do it, which means you need another trip to the lawyer.
Remember the lawyer just makes your will for you, and then presents it to you for signature. The lawyer will not come back to you a year or 2 later and suggest that you might like to change it because the tax rules have changed or whatever it may be. The lawyer just does the will for you and that's that. It's up to you then. You need to keep your eyes and ears open about changes in your own circumstances or out there in the wider world or whatever it may be, so that if necessary you can go back and consult the lawyer again about revising your will.
Make sure they know
This sounds obvious, but when you are dead it is too late to tell your nearest and dearest where your will is. So if they can't find it, it was a bit of a waste of time making it! So make sure they know in advance, or at least put it somewhere obvious so they are sure to find it when the time comes.
Another good idea is to keep the will together with all your other personal papers like your bank books and so on.
This all applies even if you have left your will with the lawyer who wrote it for you. Your relatives still need to know where to find it, so either tell them or leave a note somewhere where they will find it when the time comes.