It’s hard to imagine our own deaths and how we’d like to distribute our property. In this guest post Drew Davies describes how the death of his grandfather helped him to get organised and write a will. And he’s picked up some tips that could help you too:
Do you have a will?
The question alone was enough to send a chill down my spine. I’d procrastinated for so long that I’d convinced myself that wills only really existed in movies and TV programmes – Six Feet Under and Bleak House spring to mind.
They were a plot device, not a real part of everyday life. Then, last year, my grandfather died, and I saw how his preparations made things that much easier for my grandmother. He’d written out instructions on things like paying the car insurance and where he kept important records, and I realised that putting things in order like this, was a gesture of love, rather than just a scary process that made you confront your own mortality.
So, recently, I started to investigate how to write a will. I had to spread my research over several days, because my stomach would start to churn after a few minutes. I’d never communicated with a solicitor in my life, so that felt daunting.
I’m most comfortable doing things on the Web, so when I found an online will-writing service that allowed you to fill in your details online and get it looked over by a ‘will specialist’ once you’d finished, I signed up.
(Unfortunately will writing is unregulated. If you decide to use a will-writing firm, consider using one that belongs to The Institute of Professional Willwriters).
However, everyone is different, and you will probably want to talk to a solicitor if your circumstances are in any way complicated (if you have complex family arrangements, or jointly own a business, for example) as it’s better to pose questions to a professional upfront.
Great, I’d bought a will. Hard part over. Except now, I actually had to fill it in. There were some things that stumped me. I didn’t know what an executor was – and I should probably stop pronouncing it “executioner”! For the record, an executor is the person (or people) who administer all the paperwork on your death and carries out the wishes according to your will after your death).
I’d assumed it always had to be a solicitor, but you can also have other family members or friends as executors (saving you the solicitor fees), but it might be prudent to use a combination of both (or a solicitor if there’s anything complicated in your will that might stump your family or friends, like tax issues and Trusts).
You’ll also need the address of anyone you want to leave something to. And make sure you write their full name, not a nickname (we have lots of nicknames in my family, and I sometimes forget they actually have a proper name), and including any middle names.
I also thought leaving a legacy to a charity would be more complicated. Full disclosure: I am working on a project with Unicef, but you might have other favourite charities like Barnardo’s or World Animal Protection. I assumed you’d have to make an application to the charity, but actually it’s easy, all you have to do is name them in your will as you would any other beneficiary.
Just make sure you get the name right when you write a will (especially if there are charities with similar names), and including the charity registration number is a good idea too. If you let the charity know beforehand, they can sometimes help and give you additional information.
Finally, there’s the issue of storing the will. You can, of course, keep it yourself – but then you risk losing it, or it getting destroyed in a fire. Your solicitor or bank can store it for you (there might be a fee at a bank).
The one that looks most interesting to me is lodging it with the probate office for £20 (England & Wales only). You can also register your will at Certainty, the National Will Register and Will search service, who are endorsed by the Law Society (and registering takes 60 seconds).
Do you have a will? That’s the question I’ll be asking my friends from now on, because now I’ve done it I realise it’s not really that difficult. It’s cathartic.
I’m a pretty organised person in life, and now I’ll be organised post-life too. And I plan to check it every 3-5 years. It’s just one extra thing off my shoulders, and in hindsight, I’ve discovered it’s actually a life-affirming process to write a will too.