Friday, 7 October 2011

Plenty of Time to Get a Will?

A confession: I haven’t written a will. Despite having children, a partner, a flat, and a few motley possessions, it’s not something I’ve got around to. My thought process to date on whether I get a will can broadly be summed up as “F&^k it, I can’t be bothered, it seems a bit confusing, and I probably won’t die soon anyway”.

However, a bit of professional work I have been doing recently in the area has led me to reconsider; I’m going to get a will. Moreover, given how murky the world of wills can be, I thought I’d provide some straightforward information to help others do the same, should they wish to.

I’m not alone in my casual attitude to will writing: recent studies estimate the number of adults in possession of a will is between 36 and 48%. Such figures are often bandied around to imply that people are recklessly failing to plan for the future. The truth is in fact a bit more nuanced: 2008 Probate Service figures showed only 16.5% of people died intestate (without a will). A few basic facts support the view that people are rather more rational than would initially appear:

· Only 6% of 16-24 year olds have a will, as opposed to 82% of over 75s

· Only 9% of estates worth under £10,000 are covered by a will, versus 80% with assets over £500,000

So no problem then? That was a short article! Well, no. Firstly, the low rates of intestacy may simply reflect the greater organisation and preparedness of our parents and grandparents: there may be still be a timebomb for younger generations. Secondly, people dying intestate are on average much younger than those with wills. Sadly, some of us will succumb to unexpected death. Relatives in these circumstances are likely to have a lot of emotional issues to deal with, so having to deal with the absence of a will is an unwelcome additional headache.

Most importantly, the impact of dying without a will is high.

· Assets will not go where you want them to – there is a predetermined allocation of your assets laid out by law. This is unlikely to match your wishes. This is especially so because the rules fail reflect modern family circumstances: unmarried couples, divorcees, particularly where there are children, will be adversely affected

· You have no choice over who executes the estate, which means that they are often protracted, due to inability to appoint the person you feel would be most able to do the task

· The combination of the above can result in additional costs being incurred

So if we conclude that not having a will is a bad option, then what about having one?

In recent years, there have been a number of scandals given a considerable amount of focus by Panorama, and also Which?. These centred on outright theft, or rampant overcharging. Additional concerns have been expressed around invalid wills, wills failing to achieve the purpose intended for them, and exploitative cross-selling.

Your main options for writing a will are:

· Solicitor – traditionally they have dominated the market, but now only used by 2/3rd of people

· Online Services, or Will Packs bought in shops – (13% of the market)

· Will Writing Company – (10% of the market)

· Financial Service Provider and others – (10% of the market)

In future blogs I’ll give you some background on each of these options, and some insight into the pitfalls associated with each route, to help you get a will that does what you want at a fair price.

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