Writing a will is easier than you think.
Writing a will isn’t the most pleasant of tasks or a straightforward discussion with your loved ones. After all, by doing so, you’re acknowledging your inevitable demise and actively planning for it.
That might explain why so many adults avoid this cornerstone of estate planning. According to recent studies, 3 out of 5 people working over 45 don’t have a Will.
But creating a will is one of the most critical things you can do for your loved ones. By writing down your wishes, you are helping your heirs avoid unnecessary hassles and ensuring that a lifetime’s worth of possessions will reach their rightful owners.
A will is a meaningful way to control who gets what of your property. It can save your loved one’s time and money.
The laws governing a will vary from country to country. Some have common-law rules whereby you can select who you like (charities, your pet, non-family) for inheritance.
You may be required to include descendants (children) in your will, depending on the civil law rules in your country of residence or where your assets are.
Here are some helpful guidelines:-
What is a will?
A will is a legal document in which you, the testator, declare who will inherit and manage your estate after you die.
Probate is the legal transfer of assets from a deceased person to their heirs. Executors present your will, death certificate, and schedule (list) of support to claim and debts to repay (mortgage, credit card). After the Court of Probate approves your will, it issues a Grant of Probate, a document allowing you to claim those assets.
Your estate can consist of big, expensive things, such as a vacation home and small items that might hold sentimental value, such as photographs. The executor is the executor in the will to manage your estate because they execute your stated wishes.
A will can also declare who you wish to become the guardian for any minor children or dependents and who you want to receive specific items that you own.
Someone designated to receive your property is called a “beneficiary.”
Many property types, including insurance policies and retirement accounts, are not covered by wills. It would be best if you had named beneficiaries as soon as you took out or opened the policies. Please check if you need help remembering and ensuring your beneficiaries are up to date.
It would be best if you did not put assets in your will because they change over time, and you would have to remember to change your will.
Ideally, your executors should have a list of assets and liabilities, so they know who to inform and who to claim upon your death.
What happens if I die without a will?
Intestacy is what happens when someone dies without a valid will. As a result, your estate will be divided based on the country’s laws where you hold assets that define who inherits what. Thus, whoever inherits your assets will be determined by the country where they are.
In the absence of an executor, a judge appoints an administrator to act as executor. An administrator is also assigned if a will is deemed invalid, so if you write your own will, ensure you know what is acceptable.
Administrators rarely know you or your family and must adhere to their country’s laws. An administrator may make decisions that are outside your wishes.
Should I have a separate Will from my spouse or a mirror will?
If you want your assets distributed separately to your spouse, you should have a single will. Your spouse should have their own. If you are happy to have identical distributions from your estate, you should have a mirror will. Both spouses state the same executor/s, beneficiaries, and guardians.
Single wills are for individuals. In some wills, couples can elect to include clauses similar to those in their other wills.
Mirror wills are designed for couples to make life easier. These are two separate Wills that would set out the exact wishes for couples in their wills, so a husband, wife or partner would make (almost) alike wills.
Hence the term ‘mirror’ is used. One spouse must sign one document, and the other must sign the other.
These two wills mirror what the other says.
Who should act as a witness to a will?
Any person can be a witness to your will, but you should select someone who isn’t a beneficiary or executor.
A Will requires two witness signatures, which should be the same age or younger than you.
Who should I name as my executor?
You can name your spouse, an adult child, or another trusted friend or relative as your executor. If your affairs are complicated, it might make more sense to name someone with legal and financial expertise.
It would be best if you also named contingent Executor/s in case the first level fails.
How do I leave specific items to specific heirs?
If you wish to leave specific personal property to certain heirs, indicate as much in your will. In addition, you can create a separate document called a letter or expression of wishes that you should keep with your will.
A letter or expression of wishes, which isn’t legally binding, can be written more informally than a Will and can go into detail about which items go to whom. You can also include specifics that will help your executor settle your estate, including account numbers, passwords, and burial instructions.
If you wish, you can specify family heirlooms to pass along, such as silver for Aunt Sally and china for Cousin Billy, as well as your children’s education and religion.
Your Executor/s carries out these wishes for you and so not delayed by the courts/
How often does a will need to be updated?
Your will may need to be updated throughout life as situations change.
With that in mind, you should revisit your will during significant life changes. Weddings, divorces, births of children, the death of a beneficiary or executor, or important purchases and inheritances are all pivotal moments.
Your kids probably won’t need guardians named in a will after they’re adults, for example. However, you might still need to name guardians for disabled dependents.
A rule of thumb: Review your will every two or three years to be safe.
Who has the right to contest my will?
Contesting a will challenges the legal validity of all or parts of the document. A beneficiary who feels slighted by the terms of a will might choose to examine it.
Depending on which country you live in, so too might a spouse, ex-spouse or child who believes your stated wishes go against local probate laws.
Besides not being witnessed properly, being incompetent, or being the result of coercion or fraud, anyone can contest a will for several reasons. A probate judge usually settles disputes.
A clearly drafted and validly executed will is the best defence.
Having your written instructions allows you the peace of mind that everything you own will get to the right people when the time is needed.