Wills Myth Busting
Myth 1: Wills are just for old people to worry about.
People often assume that wills are for old people, so they don’t need to worry about that for years… but it’s absolutely not true. We all read the news. We all see awful accidents that happen and we know people who do die young.
A lot of people die before their time, so it’s never too early to get these things put in place. Don’t risk it. Just get the document made up, then you’ve got peace of mind and you can forget about it.
Myth 2: Wills are just for the rich – I don’t have anything to leave behind.
If you have children, if you have any possessions, if you have a bank account, a car, pets, jewellery… anything at all, then you absolutely need a will. All of those things need taking care of if you aren’t around any more.
You may not have a lot to leave, but surely you would want some choice over where it went and not just leave it for your family to fight about.
That’s another myth that’s not on the list – that your family wouldn’t argue about what’s left behind – but this is a huge area. The courts have to get involved in family disputes every day.
Myth 3: My family will sort it all out when I’m gone.
If you don’t state your wishes, how can your family make the right decisions? They don’t know how to distribute the estate as you would wish. Plus, they may not have the authority to do so. In a will, you name executors. If there aren’t any, a court can appoint them and they might choose someone you don’t get along with or who might take everything for themself.
It’s not worth the risk. People act better with instruction when there are no areas of doubt. Your executors will have full confidence that they are doing what you would have wanted.
It’s an important job – sorting out bank accounts and property – so it obviously has to be somebody that you trust implicitly and who has the confidence and ability to deal with that, too.
Myth 4: My children will be looked after by my family.
Not necessarily. It’s possible for children to get taken into care temporarily while a guardian is appointed. Nobody would want that for their children, especially when they have just lost a parent or parents.
You may assume that your sister would step in – but what happens if she’s abroad on holiday at the time, or when it comes down to it, she doesn’t feel capable. There could be circumstances out of her control.
Social services have the authority to take over from the instant they are needed, to avoid any risk to the children. But minors being taken into care would be the last thing that you would want – especially being taken away from their home. That’s a really big one and it’s what made me personally get my will in place. My children are worth more than anything I could ever own.
Myth 5: My children’s godparents have a right to look after them.
No – appointing a godparent is a religious preference rather than a legal decision. You would hope that a godparent might step forward, but if they are not named in a will and are not family, they would need to go through DBS and police checks before they could look after your children.
Without a will it would be up to the court to decide – as we all know, things like that are not done overnight. So get it down in writing and the heartbreak will be reduced.
Myth 6: My partner will get everything automatically.
If you’re not married – and lots of couples cohabit these days – your partner won’t necessarily get anything. It depends if you have purchased property together, in which case the other person would automatically inherit that. But if you have separate bank accounts your money would be dealt with by the Rules of Intestacy.
There is a legal list of people that stand to inherit if you don’t have a will. The order is children, parents, then closer family. So just because you live together, it doesn’t mean that your partner would inherit anything.
This is really important in a modern family – you need to get that will in place. A lot of people assume their partner will inherit, but it’s not the case and can cause a lot of complications.
Myth 7: Marriage or remarriage will not affect my will.
If you were to get married that would invalidate any will, unless it was written ‘in contemplation of the union’. That can be written up specifically if you plan to marry in the near future.
Divorce has an impact as well. An ex would be treated as if they were deceased. If you’ve left everything to your ex in your will, unless you’ve put a backup in place it could be that it falls to the rules of intestacy because that person could not inherit. That’s why we review wills, because life changes, relationships break down and we do need to to consider that.
Myth 8: I can amend my own will at any time.
Well, you can amend it as many times as you like. You could write a new will every day, because there’s only ever one valid will, which is the latest dated one, as long as it’s valid and it’s witnessed and signed properly.
But you can’t just take a legal document and amend it yourself. It needs to be done professionally. If things change and you do need to amend it, that can be done, but make sure that it’s done properly to avoid invalidating the will.
Myth 9: I can cut family members out of my will.
This might apply to if a family has had an argument or a dispute. But if you don’t have an obvious person to leave your estate to and it fell into the rules of intestacy, your property could go to the person you don’t speak to.
There are ways to deliberately disinherit people, but you have to be very careful and make sure it’s backed up with notes and explanation as to why. In certain circumstances it could still be challenged in Court.
A lot of high net worth individuals or celebrities don’t pass their fortune on to their children. They might want them to make their own money and find their own way. But if those children have been dependent on that money and are used to a certain lifestyle, for example, they would have grounds to challenge that in Court. So to deliberately disinherit someone you must have robust reasons backed up with a lot of notes.
Myth 10: My debts and contracts will come to an end with my death.
Certainly secured debt like a mortgage must be repaid out of your estate, as will larger debts. But phone contracts and things like that will die with you.
It’s up to the executor to establish what needs to be repaid and what doesn’t. They would also be responsible for paying the funeral costs if the estate could afford it – which is why your executor needs to be someone switched on who can take care of that.
Myth 11: I already have a living will
A living will is a different kind of document – the clue is in the title. It applies when you’re alive. It’s generally put in place when people have a strong preference about life sustaining treatment – and wish to refuse it, generally.
People who make a living Will are often unwell or have some kind of condition and they don’t want to prolong their life unnecessarily. They might specifically refuse some treatments but not others. It can be a really important document, but it’s nothing to do with what happens after they have passed. People in those circumstances would essentially need two types of will.
Myth 12: I’m OK because I have LPAs – my attorneys will deal with my estate after my death.
Powers of Attorney help people while they’re alive – people who’ve lost capacity. Perhaps they have had a stroke or they have dementia. Or they might just be old and are now less confident in dealing with their affairs. They can appoint an attorney who has the same legal powers as they do.
These are really useful documents and we do have another podcast about that, which is definitely worth a listen. But an LPA won’t allow the attorney to deal with anything after death. It is just solely for when they are alive.
You might choose the same people to be your attorneys and your executors, because they are somebody that you trust implicitly. So it could be the same people, but it will definitely require separate documents.
Myth 13: Making a Will is complicated and expensive.
I think that’s what puts a lot of people off. It’s not a nice subject. Nobody wants to talk about it or think about what happens after they’ve gone. But it does take so much pressure off your family.
It’s not complicated, and it’s not expensive when you think about how this will take that burden off your family. You will feel it’s a bargain – knowing that when you’re gone there’ll be no arguing and everybody knows what they’re getting.
Somebody will just pick up that document and be able to sort things out easily, knowing what I want. My estate, however big or small it is, will go where I want it to.
I think people are quite surprised at how easily it’s put in place. Most people’s estates are fairly simple and straightforward, and I wouldn’t be asking you anything that you don’t already know. It’s really just a case of recording your wishes. It can be done over the telephone or over email. It’s really straightforward. We send you a draft, you check it through and then it’s sent and witnessed and signed properly.
Myth 14: Having a will means my executors won’t need to apply for probate.
No, that’s not true. Probate depends on the size of the estate and whether you own property. For most people probate is required and the executors would need to apply for that. But it is significantly easier and quicker if you have a will.
Technically, probate could drag on for years for various reasons, but the will speeds it up immensely. Imagine you have a property to sell but you’re waiting on probate. That empty property is just going to sit there, creating bills and hassle and upset for all the family. Everybody would just want to move on and get it sorted out – and with that will, probate can be granted a lot faster.
Myth 15: My Will is private and no one other than my executors will see it after I die.
Well, it is a private document and only the executors would be allowed to see it and show it to people. However, once probate has been granted it becomes a public document – unless it’s Prince Philip, of course: his was sealed, interestingly.
But your will is only private until it has gone through probate. If the executors choose to share that in the meantime, they can – essentially it’s up to them.
Is there anything else to add about Wills?
I think we’ve pretty much covered everything, but I would just say if anybody wants to just have a chat, please get in touch. Remember that you can amend your will at any time as life changes. In the meantime it is just absolutely worth getting something down on paper for peace of mind.
Will writing is not part of the Openwork offering and is offered in our own right. Openwork Limited accepts no responsibility for this aspect of our business. Will writing is not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
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