Life

Making a will means things are much easier after you pass on

Making a will is relatively inexpensive when you consider how it takes a weight off your mind and makes your wishes clear after death

Have you or haven’t you? Should you or shouldn’t you? Will you or won’t you? I think you should consider it – making a will that is.

Why is it important? To be certain that your assets will go to the people you wish to have them be it a house, a car, a painting and of course, your money. Proper planning is vital, if there is no will after death, the law can step in and make appropriate decisions as to how your possessions will be divided. With such implications and the chaos that can follow, it’s important to leave instructions that have been carefully and legally laid out in your last will and testament.

A will is a legal document and needs to be framed using specific terminology, signed off and witnessed in a proper fashion.

When I visited the Law Society of Northern Ireland office to get advice, I talked to the organisation's president, John Guerin, and he immediately pointed out the importance of detail.

I told him how a friend asked me to witness her will, one foolscap page with handwritten instructions and a line where I signed. He told me this was not a good idea. Thankfully, in later years, she had it made properly because her arrangement with me would mean nothing on her death.

“You can buy a pro forma will document which you fill in but, again, if you make a mistake it will not stand up when the time comes. It’s important to be aware of the legal procedure in this day and age where tax laws are complex, property prices swing up and down, working out joint tenancy or tenants in common and the thorny issue of inheritance tax,” said John.

And what if you want to leave an online photographic library to someone, or your writings – no longer a tangible jotter or an album to pass over, again legal advice essential?

"Things in your life will always change, so re-evaluate your will on a regular basis and be sure to tell family where it’s to be found – in a desk drawer, under the mattress or preferably in the safe hands of a solicitor. It’s a good idea to leave a separate document listing relevant information such as your bank details."

What happens when someone dies and hasn’t made a will?

"How long is a piece of string? There are so many permutations in that event – assets could possibly go to next of kin, maybe your husband, one of your children or even your mother.

"If someone is unhappy with the way things are apportioned and feel they have lost out somewhere along the line, they can contest; if this happens the solicitor will look at ‘undue influence’ being brought to bear and the state of mind the person was in when making their will.

"A doctor’s certificate confirming the person was in good mental health should overrule any challenge. Contesting a will is complex, costly and lengthy and could deplete the estate with legal fees."

What happens if a wealthy 90-year-old man takes up with a 21-year-old girl and makes a will in her favour?

"There is nothing the family can do. Someone can have up to £325,000 in their estate but for anything over that amount there will be a 40 per cent inheritance tax bill to pay when they die. Nor can it be contested if someone leaves a huge legacy to the cat’s home if indeed the will is properly made – but please note: you can’t leave your fortune to the cat, though you can to a cat charity!

"This is where wording is so important; there are many charities with similar names so it’s advisable to state the correct name of your chosen organisation."

Making a will is relatively inexpensive when you consider how it takes a weight off your mind and makes your wishes clear after death. Usually it’s between £75 and £100. Some law firms have a dedicated month called Wills Month where they will give a free appointment to make a will in return for a donation to a named charity.

"Wills are getting more and more complicated, families splitting, children by first and second marriage, different houses and in general people becoming more wealthy. The residents of EastEnders might be very surprised at how their little two-up, two-downs are now very desirable property!"

Currently some scammer is buying the Edwardian slates from Norris Cole’s roof for a tidy sum! I smell trouble! He should have consulted a solicitor before agreeing!

What about a residence elsewhere – a holiday home in Spain or Donegal, for instance?

"If you have property in UK and Ireland then speak to your local solicitor for advice. However, if the property is in, for example, Bulgaria or Portugal its best to seek local legal advice for that jurisdiction.

"You can source a local lawyer through the e-Justice Portal at https://e-justice.europa.eu/. This portal also allows you to look up local lawyers by category including if you’ve been involved in an accident abroad."

The laws pertaining to wills basically apply to the UK and Ireland although there may be little things that differ.

This is very basic information and in layman’s terms, designed to encourage you to look at your own situation and get advice. There are so many twists and turns for each individual, sometimes it’s simple, other times it’s complex and guidance is crucial, although you won’t be there of course to see the confusion that might arise!

What if we come out of the EU? Will it change anything?

“Ramifications legally are unknown. We’ve been under EU law over 30 years but if we do exit out of those laws the good news is this will not impact on wills!"

So. Have you or haven’t you? Should you or shouldn’t you? Will you or won’t you? I think you should consider it – making a will that is.

For more details or to speak to a local solicitor contact www.lawsoc-ni.org.

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