Why parents should have a Will

Category: Estate Planning, Inheritance Disputes, Lasting Power of Attorney, Probate, Wills

“I’m a parent and have been told I should have a Will. But I don’t understand why it’s so important.”

No one likes to think about it, but unfortunately, death is a fact of life. It’s going to happen to us all at some point. However, if you’re a parent and you don’t have a Will in place, then you’re at risk of leaving your family horribly exposed, particularly if you have a partner and are unmarried.

Around 70% of people in Britain either don’t have a Will, or have one that’s out of date?

If you pass away without a valid up to date Will then your estate will pass in accordance with the rule of intestacy. This means that certain people will be entitled to benefit from your estate depending on your family circumstances. These will divide your estate up as the court sees fit. If you’re a parent, you’ll have no control over who gets what. That’s a scary place to be. However, by writing a will, you can ensure that if you or your partner were to die, your family will be provided for and your estate will be divided according to your specific wishes.

But don’t think that it’s all about money. There are a lot of other things to bear in mind as well. Making a will allows guardians to be appointed for your children if they are under 18 years of age. In other words, if your plans aren’t outlined in a will, and both parents unfortunately pass away, the decision is no longer yours. The local authority or the courts will take control of the decision of who should look after your children.  

Summary

Some quick important points to note if a parent doesn’t have a Will:

  • their spouse, cohabitee, partner or civil partner won’t automatically inherit everything
  • if they are not married then their partner may not inherit anything depending on how they hold their assets
  • who looks after their children may be decided by a local authority or court
  • any step-children or foster children won’t inherit anything

Death happens and, quite often, it happens completely out of the blue, when you’re least expecting it. If you don’t have a Will, or its been years since it was updated, please pay close attention. The following 10 tips answer the question “why do I need a Will?” and will be of interest to parents. What should a Will contain? What do you need to think of that will be best for your family, and children in particular?

1. Appoint a guardian for your children

Who would you appoint as a guardian in the event that you, or you and your partner, were to die? This needs to be given careful thought, and you’ll need to have discussions with those you choose.

As we previously mentioned, If you don’t choose a guardian, the local authorities will. And while they often prefer to place children with your immediate family, it’s certainly not automatic.

It’s always wise to appoint more than one guardian. People’s situations change, and you’ll need an alternative in case your first choice is unwilling, or is unable to take on the role.

Godparents are not the same as guardians. Godparents have no legal rights. So, if a parent’s wish is that the children’s godparents look after your children if you die, you must name them as guardians in your Will.

2. Set out a plan for your child’s finances

The cost of bringing up just one child in the UK to the age of 18, has risen to £230,000. How could your family cover these expenses in the event of your death? Particularly if you don’t have a Will in place. How can your estate cover these costs?

In layman’s terms, your ‘estate’ means your bank accounts, pensions, investments, home, car, and any smaller assets you have to your name. It also means any rights and licenses you might own.

In your will, think about how you can balance the needs of each of the members of your family after your death.  For your own peace of mind, you need to feel confident that your partner, children, and step-children, are all provided for.

3. Provide for your step-children and other dependents

If you have step-children, then they won’t automatically inherit anything from your estate. When was the last time you made any changes to your Will? Was it before you got married? You need to specifically include step-children in your Will.

This may also be the case for anyone else that you care for – foster children and any dependent adults that rely upon you.

4. Revise beneficiaries from trusts, pensions or insurance

Do you have a life insurance policy, a pension scheme or other assets held in trust? These may not be passed down within the provisions of your will. Be sure to contact the providers and nominate your beneficiaries of the policies specifically.

5. Decide on the age of inheritance

At what age do you want your children to receive full control of their inheritance?

Unless your Will says otherwise, they will automatically get access to their assets at 18 in most cases (although the default in Scotland is 17).

Before this age, and where needed, your children can still benefit from their inheritance, but won’t be able to manage it personally. The assets will be held on trust, and managed by a ‘trustee’ to benefit your child.

As an example, your child(ren) may receive an allowance from a cash fund. However, they will not be able to withdraw money without the trustee’s consent.

You might think 18 is too young an age to expect your children to be financially responsible. If so, you can set a higher age if you wish or put conditions on their access. Many people opt for 21, or even older.

6. Appoint trustees for your child’s inheritance

If you die before the age your children can inherit, their assets will need to be held in trust.

To manage that trust, you need to nominate a trusted person, known as the trustee.

trustee is a person who will need to be appointed in your Will, and who takes responsibility for managing money or assets that have been set aside in a trust for the benefit of someone else.

Think carefully about who the best person would be to safeguard your children’s assets and help plan for their future. The trustee is essentially in control of your children’s finances. You might want to appoint your partner as one of the trustees, with either one or two further trustees, or substitute trustees in case both parents pass away. It is important to have two trustees where there are children under 18 years old receiving from your estate.

Again, as with the Guardians, if you choose to appoint a trustee or trustees, you should speak to them and ensure they are happy to undertake this role.

7. Consider trust beneficiary payouts

Will a partner or other beneficiary receive a large payout in the event of your death? This, for example, could be from your life insurance policy. If so, then they may not need a large legacy from your Will too. 

This then frees up assets that you can leave for your dependents. Think carefully about the arrangements in place for all the members of your family and how they will be protected.

If you have decided to establish a trust for your children, you’ll also need to give careful thought to the guidance that you give to the trustees on how you would like the money to be controlled. Should they receive everything at the age of inheritance, or would you like to provide an income? You could also make specific requests, such as the money going to pay for education, living costs or helping them step onto the property ladder.

8. Make a new Will if you get married or enter into a civil partnership

After you get married or enter into a civil partnership, any existing Will that doesn’t cater for this event is automatically revoked. It’s not one of the thoughts at the front of your mind after you get married, but you should write a new will, as soon as possible, to ensure your wishes are carried out.

If you’re engaged and planning to marry soon, you can also include a clause in your Will stating that you will be marrying your (named) fiancé and that you wish for the Will to be effective before and after you get married.

9. Consider family heirlooms

While partners and children, and how they will be provided for are the most important considerations, you may wish to make specific legacies in the Will, so that particular items are passed on to your children rather than sold to pay for inheritance tax or otherwise.

10. Schedule a will review

Circumstances can change, so it’s important to keep your will up to date to accommodate this.

Reviewing your will at significant stages of your life or just reviewing it generally every five years or so will give you a chance to think about whether the people you’ve nominated to look after your children are still suitable and whether your instructions still reflect your family’s situation. 

Here at Nash & Co Solicitors, we would be delighted to help with a review, or writing a Will. Our team of experienced and friendly lawyers are also happy to answer any questions that you might have. Give us a call on 01752 827076, or email David at [email protected] or Alice at [email protected] who would be happy to help!