The law in England and Wales that governs wills is mainly derived from the Wills Act 1837. The Law Commission is currently undergoing a review as to whether the law relating to wills should be modernised, to make it easy for more people to make wills and leave gifts to loved ones. One suggestion is the ability to make wills digitally so to take advantage of developments in technology.
The outcome of this debate is much awaited, as unfortunately statistics state that 40% of the adult population do not have a will. Legendary singer, Aretha Franklin has been reported to have died without making a will with a fortune of $80 million. In England and Wales, if a person dies without a will they are deemed to have died ‘intestate’, which means that the distribution of their estate will be governed by Law, with fixed rules about who will inherit the estate. The deceased has lost all control over whom their property and estate should pass to. This could mean that distant relatives that they do not know or relatives that they do not get on with, may inherit. It can cause difficulties for the family especially where inheritance tax is an issue, adding stress at a time of bereavement.
Going back to the basics, making a will allows you to appoint an executor(s), who administers your estate and distributes the funds according to the terms of your will. An Executor does not need to be a beneficiary (but can be) in your will. If you have children under the age of eighteen, you can choose who you would like to take care of them by appointing a guardian. If you want to, you can also leave certain possessions to certain people, leave an amount of money to grandchildren, a friend or a charity. Maybe someone lives with you, and you want them to be able to continue living in your house, if you died but do not want to leave the property itself to them, then all this can be done by your will. A will also deals with the rest of your money and possessions, and where necessary a will can be drafted to mitigate inheritance tax. A will also allows you to express your wishes about your funeral arrangements. Making a will essentially gives you control over who should inherit your possessions and property.
Even if you have made a will, it is just as important to keep it under review. British Businessman, Richard Cousins who was the highly regarded head of the catering company, Compass had only recently updated his will before his untimely death. Mr Cousins died in a sea-plane crash, along with his two sons, fiancée and her daughter whilst on holiday. It is reported that originally, Mr Cousins had intended to leave the majority of his wealth to his two sons, aged 25 and 23. However, shortly before the tragedy, Mr Cousins had updated his will to include a ‘default clause’ that would come into force, if he and his sons all died together. Although, Mr Cousins would clearly never have wanted this clause to take effect, having updated his will meant that his true intentions were carried out and £41million of his wealth was left to the charity Oxfam.