Making a will is one of the most important things any of us can do to make sure our loved ones are well cared for after our death.

But, despite many of us knowing that it makes sense to make a will, relatively few of us actually have one in place: nearly 60% of us don’t have a will.
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Darren McGuinness, Solicitor at the Stockport Branch of Harold Stock & Co, shares his top ten tips for making sure your will covers ticks all the right boxes.
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How will you prepare for your will? 

It’s not a pleasant subject, no one likes to talk about death, especially not their own. But making the right plans on how you want your possessions to be distributed while you are alive and well enough to make the right choices, can save a host of problems and hardships for your grieving family sort out after you’ve gone.

Every month at Harold Stock & Co, we end up helping families get over the problems left when a loved one dies without a will. Quite often, the loved one who passed just didn’t want to face up to the inevitable, but often people feel daunted or even afraid by the will making process. For some, they fear that it will be a huge cost that they can’t or won’t pay for.

The reality is that the business of making a will can be very straightforward, doesn’t cost the earth, and provided you are aware of the major pitfalls, can leave you and your family with peace of mind. To help you, here are my top ten tips for making sure your will making is as smooth and easy as possible.

1. Work with an expert to draw up your will

There’s a place for DIY and that is firmly in home improvement. There are plenty of sites out there offering DIY will kits, but the will making process is full of pitfalls and mistakes are easy to make. Solicitors like us get a lot of business from sorting out badly drafted wills and dealing with claims against those wills. It’s not a nice process, so avoid it by talking to someone who understands how to do it properly.

2. Take care in choosing executors

Your executors are responsible for exercising your estate in accordance with your instructions. It is a role that has certain demands, and it can involves handling large sums of money, so make sure the executors can deal with that. And always ask them first if they are happy to take on the role.

3. Find a default or substitute executor

Many people choose a spouse or partner as their executor. In this circumstance it’s wise to have a substitute. If you both died together in a plane crash or a car accident, neither of you would have an executor living. A default or substitute executor is a fallback, in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to act.

4. Appoint guardians, where appropriate

If you are a single parent and die leaving children under age 18 you will need to have an appointed guardian to care for them. If you don’t choose someone, a guardian will be appointed by the court. If you are unmarried but you and your partner have children, you might not even get guardianship of your children. If an unmarried man dies, his female partner automatically gets guardianship of their children, but if an unmarried woman dies, her male partner does not.

5. Find trustworthy trustees

It might seem like a no-brainer, but if you set up a trust in your will or if your beneficiaries could be aged under 18 when you die, you will need to have trustees. These are people you appoint who are then responsible for managing and investing your money, and looking after property until it passes to the beneficiaries. They need to be people with a good grasp of financial matters and also people you trust implicitly to do the best for your beneficiaries.

6. Think of the specific legacies you would like to leave

Many of us have family heirlooms and items of special sentimental value we want to preserve and pass on. It might be a wedding or engagement ring, a watch or jewellery, or it might even be that precious collection of Star Wars Figures! Leave these items as a specific legacy to a named beneficiary, preferably someone who will appreciate them as much as you do!

7. Prepare a Residual Legacy

This is basically what’s left over in your estate after all the specific legacies. You do need to specify where and to whom this goes. If you don’t, you will create a partial intestacy in your will. In other words, the small gifts and legacies would pass according to the will, but the residue would be subject to the laws of intestacy – and all the legal wranglings that involves.

8. Consider Trusts for Tax Saving

Inheritance tax is quite a burden on families, particularly where the value of a property pushes the value of an estate above the nil rate band for inheritance tax. If you are married, you can include a discretionary trust in your wills, which could save your children more £110,000 in inheritance tax at current rates.

9. Sign on the dotted line …

It’s not a problem when you work with a professional. But I have known situations where a person makes their own will, but then doesn’t sign it in front of two independent witnesses. If this happens, it will not be valid. A witness cannot be anyone mentioned in the will or anyone married to anyone mentioned in the will. At Harold Stock & Co we provide this service.

10. Store your will safely, but let people know where it is

Once your will is signed and you have completed all that’s required by law, it’s important to have it stored in a proper safe storage facility. Most solicitors provide this service. This will protect your will from fire, flood, damage, or loss. Your executors will be receive a certificate showing them where your will is stored and how to get hold of it if you die.

Whatever you do, don’t hide your will. It’s no good to anyone if it can’t be found!

Expert Opinion provided by Darren McGuinness, Harold Stock & Co

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