Where there's a will there's a way (to avoid dispute)
It's that time of year again. There are certain aspects of financial planning that seem to come into the spotlight at certain times of the year. And at the moment, as we move from autumn into winter, the topic that comes to mind is writing a will.
November is ‘Will Aid' month, where solicitors who support the Will Aid charity write a basic will for you, but waive their fee. Instead, you make a donation which supports the nine leading charities in the scheme: ActionAid, Age UK, British Red Cross, Christian Aid, NSPCC, Save the Children, SCIAF, Sightsavers, and Trocaire.
The suggested voluntary donation is £95 for a basic will or £150 for a pair of basic mirror wills.
There is also a second scheme which, for the last five years, has been run by the Marie Curie cancer charity.
Under their ‘Free Will' scheme, Marie Curie has agreed a set fee with participating solicitors to write a simple single or mirror will, or update an existing simple will. It really is a ‘free will' - there is no charge to you, although the charity hopes that you might consider a gift to them in your will. Marie Curie point out that gifts in wills paid for the care of a quarter of the people the charity helped last year.
What are the reasons to make a will? Well, the primary one is to administer your wealth and divide up your estate.
In the past we have noted some remarkable disasters where celebrities have died without a will, which is called dying ‘intestate'.
The rock singer Prince died with no will in place, because he died relatively young and simply hadn't got around to making one. His estate was valued at $300 million, and he had a full sister and five half-siblings, plus an unknown half-sister who emerged after his death.
Because there was no will, this has resulted in an extended legal wrangle, which is still going on, to find out who among the seven of them is entitled to what.
However, you don't need to be a millionaire, to need a will.
A will records your wishes for your legacy, and records them in an orderly fashion. You can put down in writing who gets your money, your property, your valuables – even your children! You can use your will to stipulate guardians for your children, in case, by some tragic event, both you and your spouse die before your children turn 18.
Your clear instructions can also prevent bitter arguments in your extended family, by stipulating clearly how you want your estate to be divided.
A will also means that your family are spared the possibility of having to go through the courts, to establish their legal right to the money and property which you would have wanted them to have anyway.
There are three stages to smooth the process of passing your estate on to your family. First, get your will in place. Second, keep your will up to date. Third, make sure your family know the will exists, and where it can be found.
It is crucial to structure the financial side of your will in a tax-efficient manner, by drawing on the advice and help of a qualified, independent financial adviser.
Don't make the mistake Prince made by putting off writing your will until it's too late.
:: Michael Kennedy is an independent financial adviser and pensions specialist, and can be contacted on 028 71886005 . Further information on Facebook at “Kennedy Independent Financial Advice Ltd”