Here’s everything you need to know about writing a Will – from one of the top law firms in Newcastle
As one of the best law firms in Newcastle, Samuel Phillips Law are one of our most esteemed Experts in Residence. Here, their Senior Associate and Head of Wills, Probate and Trusts, Hayley Young, shows us just how easy it is to create a Will.
Do I need a Will? Isn’t that for people who actually have something to leave behind, or someone to leave it behind to? Can I write my own Will? Or do I need a lawyer to write a Will for me?
We don’t know about you, but for us the legal world is filled with questions. Questions that, more often than not, demand technical, complicated answers.
Which is why we’ve fallen hard, deep and fast for Samuel Phillips Law. From the moment we met their female-led dream team – who each endeavour to take the time to understand us, and help us understand them – we knew this was the law firm we’d been waiting for.
And it doesn’t take a genius to see why Samuel Phillips Law are now regarded as one of the top law firms in Newcastle. Actually, scratch that. One of the top law firms in the North East. Long story short, it’s because they care.
They know the tightrope modern women must walk along to balance work, family, friends and any remote sense of wellbeing. They recognise that we don’t inhabit the same world of legal loopholes and technical jargon that they do. And they understand that writing a Will, for example, probably isn’t top of our to-do lists at the minute. But what they also know – and what many of us don’t – is just how important legal documents like a Will can be when it really matters. Not just for us, but for our loved ones, too.
Unfortunately, many of us underestimate how important having a Will is until, well, we’re in absolutely no position to do anything about it. Which is why, instead of listening to our work mates or our Great Auntie Brenda, we’re heeding the advice of the experts and have started looking into how to create a Will.
And, naturally, we thought we’d take you along on our investigative journey with us. Our first port of call? Senior Associate and Head of Wills, Probate and Trusts at Samuel Phillips, Hayley Young…
Thanks for helping us out, Hayley! So, why should we be making a Will in our 20s and 30s?
It isn’t just the elderly or the wealthy that need to make a Will. Everyone – no matter how old you are, or how little you think you have to leave – should really be thinking about it.
That’s mainly because we don’t have a crystal ball to tell us the exact moment we’re going to take our last breath. And, sadly, as we see all too often, it’s a fact of life that even people in their 20s and 30s can die. It’s never too early to start to think about putting your Will in place.
What does a Will actually do?
A Will not only deals with what you want to gift and to whom, but it also allows you to decide who is going to be responsible for dealing with things after you’ve passed away. If you don’t have a Will, the government decides – and this takes away your control and your choice.
A Will can appoint a guardian for your children if you die while they’re still minors. This is particularly important if you’re a single parent, are separated or are in a blended family. A Will also helps make sure that your Estate doesn’t have to pay any unnecessary inheritance tax, so your beneficiaries get the largest amount of inheritance possible. You can make gifts to charity in your Will, and it’s also a good idea to make arrangements for your pets through your Will, too.
A lot of people think that the family they leave behind will be able to follow any wishes that they may have spoken about or have written down informally before they die. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and families can’t do anything unless it’s specified in your Will.
What can happen if I don’t have a Will and something bad happens?
The government decides what happens to your Estate and you lose the chance to have a say in how things are dealt with and by who. You also lose the chance to make sure your chosen beneficiaries are the ones who will actually receive anything.
The government rules are called the Rules of Intestacy and were established way back in 1925. Unfortunately, our society isn’t the same as it was 100 years ago and these rules are no longer adequate to protect modern families – the many couples who are living together but aren’t married or civil partners, the single parents and blended families, the multi-generational and LGBTQ+ families, not to mention those that have more complex family and financial circumstances.
I don’t have any assets other than my house – do I need a Will?
Yes! You need a Will even if you only own a house… but it’s particularly important to have a Will if you own the property with someone else and you’re not sure if that person is a joint tenant or a tenant in common. Different rules apply to how land and properties pass after someone dies depending on their type of joint ownership, so your Will needs to make sure that it deals with your share of the property correctly.
Even if you feel that you have nothing to leave in a Will right now, remember that the wording in a Will can also provide for whatever you amass over the course of your lifetime. We don’t have to refer to particular items or assets if that isn’t appropriate; instead, we can make gifts in general terms but still to specific beneficiaries. For example: ‘I leave all of my Estate to my children who survive me, upon reaching the age of 18 years, and if more than one in equal shares’.
There are pensions and death-in-service benefits which you might not be considering as assets, but your Estate may become entitled to them upon your death. Plus, there’s always inheritance you could receive yourself from parents, grandparents or distant relatives – or that unexpected lottery win!
Writing a Will sounds daunting. How simple is the process?
We try to make the process as simple and straightforward as possible, even if a client has very complicated circumstances. It’s our job to make sure that our clients understand all the information – and our advice – so that we can take the correct instructions from them and draft the Wills that they need.
What information should we have to hand before we begin the process?
Before you meet with us for the first time, you should first consider who you will appoint as your Executors. These are the people to whom you’ll give the responsibility of dealing with all your Estate and your wishes after you have passed away. They will also be in charge of the Probate process.
It would also be useful for you to make a note of any funeral wishes that you want to include in your Will. A lot of thought should be given to the appointment of guardians for your minor children, and you may want to have some discussion with anyone you are thinking of nominating to make sure that they’re willing and able to take on the role.
And what are the most important considerations to decide upon before we write a Will?
Who your beneficiaries are going to be is probably the biggest thing to consider – and what it is you want to leave to them. This could be specific items, gifts of cash or, most probably, a share or percentage of what we call your Residuary Estate.
We also like you to think about some ‘what ifs’:
- What if one of your Executors cannot act when the time comes – for example, if they have dementia?
- Who will be a replacement?
- What if one of your beneficiaries dies before you?
- Who will step into their shoes and inherit in their place? Or will their gift go back into the Residuary Estate?
We would also hope you could give us a run through of your current assets and liabilities, as this will help us to tailor the advice we give to you.
Can you take us through how the solicitor’s side of things works?
This first appointment is usually without obligation and will let us get to know you and identify all the things that you need to go into your Will. We’ll give you our expert legal advice about the best way to draft the Will based upon your wishes and will set out all our terms and conditions in writing for you, along with our client engagement letter. At this meeting, we’ll carry out all the legal checks that we must comply with, and so will ask to see your proof of identity. We’ll also make an assessment about your capacity to make the Will and will need to be satisfied that you’re not being unduly influenced.
If you wish to proceed, we’ll draft your Will and will then send it out to you to approve. If you’re happy that we’ve included everything you wanted us to correctly, we’ll then arrange an appointment to supervise the signing of your Will. This is called the execution appointment, (which isn’t as ominous as it sounds!).
We supervise execution to ensure that: it’s carried out correctly; the witnesses are provided, so it’s confidential; and there are no issues with validity or any mistakes for the future. Once signed, the Original Will can be stored by Samuel Phillips for safekeeping and we will provide plenty of copies for you, or you can store the document yourself should you wish. That’s it!
Once my Will is written, how easy is it to make changes to it?
Very easy – and we encourage clients to think about updating their Wills if their circumstances change: for example, if they’ve bought a house, had a child, experienced a death in the family or have divorced. This is often done by a document known as a Codicil, which goes alongside a Will and allows for simple things to be changed.
New Wills are sometimes recommended if there are a lot of changes to be made. But the process of making a new Will and revoking the old one is something we can guide you through.
What’s something you wish more people knew about writing a Will?
That it isn’t morbid and doesn’t tempt fate! And, once you’ve done it, you can cross it off your list and sleep well at night knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your loved ones.
I also wish more people knew how easy it is to get it wrong. It might be tempting to get a DIY kit or use an online option, but there are so many things that can be overlooked. To be valid, Wills need to be drafted and signed in a very particular way – so you might be left with something that you think does the job, but will be declared invalid once you have passed away and your loved ones will be left to deal with the consequences.