Ensuring you're reading to take those 'three steps to Heaven'
WHERE there's a will, there's a way.
Provided, of course, you haven't mislaid it and know where to find it.
Which? magazine has made some interesting discoveries about how careful we are that our will can be located and executed, when we pass away.
Which? surveyed just over 2,000 UK adults and found that a third of people named as the executor of another person's will have, at some point, not known the location of the will.
The role of the executor is important: he or she takes responsibility for collecting the will owner's assets, paying off any debts, and distributing what's left to the will's beneficiaries.
Which's findings also indicated that 10 per cent of people who have already made a will are not confident that it is in a place where it is safe from destruction.
As a financial adviser, I am usually concerned to inform people that perhaps they should make a will in the first place. Once that's done, it's equally crucial to ensure that your will is kept up to date, especially if circumstances change. However, it's equally bad if a will, which is a legal document, is made but then can't be found.
Dying with no last will and testament in place is called dying intestate. In this event the state, that well-meaning but anonymous institution, steps in to administer your wealth. This means that your house and your assets are divided up according to intestacy law.
It's important to remember your will does exactly what it says on the tin: it expresses your ‘will' as to what happens with your assets and property, and how you wanted them distributed.
And if what happens doesn't suit you, let's face it, nobody's going to hear you giving off, through six foot of turf and a goodly bunch of daisies.
In fairness now, the intestacy rules take a just and fair approach in the absence of a will; but they might divide up your assets and your estate differently than you would have wished.
In other words, losing your will means losing control.
Let's remind ourselves of what is included in our estate.
Your estate includes your home, any money you have in bank or building society accounts, your investments, and everything owned in your name. This includes your car and, if you have one, a second property such as a holiday home.
It's also important to bear in mind that under normal circumstances, your estate also includes payouts from any life insurance policies.
However, as the man said, the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away: this total will then be reduced through the repayment of your liabilities, such as any outstanding payments due on your mortgage, any loans and overdrafts, your credit card debts, and your funeral expenses.
The net figure is then the value of your estate.
With all of this in mind, with regard to your will, I hope you will agree that there are – in the immortal words of the late, the great Eddie Cochran – ‘Three steps to Heaven':
Step one: you meet with your financial adviser, who will keep you right while you put your will in place.
Step two: remember to update your will if your life circumstances change, especially with regard to your desired beneficiaries.
Step three: be aware of the location of your will document, and don't assume that your partner or executor is aware of that: you have to let them know.
Write it on a sticker for their fridge door, if necessary!
Only when these three steps are correctly taken care of, can you be certain that your will is efficient, effective, and traceable.
Otherwise your family may not benefit from your wealth in exactly the way you would have wished .... even with the best will in the world!
:: Michael Kennedy is an independent financial adviser and pensions specialist, and can be contacted on 028 71886005