Let’s Talk About Death
Why You Need To Have a Will
We all know that as responsible, well-organised adults we should have a valid will. After all, no one wants to leave a mess behind, right? But research shows that less than half of the UK population has a will. This means an awful lot of people are leaving the division of their property and guardianship of their children to chance after they pass away.
So why have over 50% of adults neglected to write up such an important document? There are several main reasons including:
- Procrastination. This is probably the greatest stumbling block for most people to overcome. Everyone knows they should make a will, but it gets put a long way down most people’s ‘to do’ list, alongside things such as cleaning out the under-stairs cupboard.
- Avoiding having to think about death. Unfortunately, along with having to pay taxes (more on this later), death is not optional. Is it not better to leave the people you love with one less thing to worry about?
- Expense. Actually, drawing up a will may not be as expensive as you may think.
The Consequences of Dying Without a Will
If you delay too long and die without having a will (known as dying intestate) then the consequences can be dire for your surviving family members. The most compelling reasons for not putting off the process any longer are:
Dying intestate takes away your power to leave your property to the people of your choice
If you die intestate, the court decides how your property will be shared out, and your express or implied wishes will be completely invalid. This is known as the ‘rules of intestacy’. Therefore, if you promised you would leave a special family heirloom to your Godchild and then die intestate, you may find your Great-Aunt Jane, who you never really cared for, is granted it instead.
In addition the overall legal costs (should you engage a solicitor to assist you) may well be higher when working through the intestacy process than dealing where someone has left a Will.
Who will take care of your children?
Another ramification of dying without a will, which few people may be aware of, is that you may have no control over who will take care of your children after you have gone. The court will appoint guardians for your children, and their choice may be very different from the one you would have made. Even worse, while waiting for guardians to be appointed, your children could end up in foster care, adding heartbreak and confusion to an already devastating situation. And just in case you need any further guilt-inducing facts – if you die intestate, your children can only inherit (valid at the date of publication) part of your estate if it is valued over £250,000 or your spouse passes away. Therefore, if you are a single parent but not yet divorced, under the rules of intestacy your estranged spouse could inherit everything, leaving your children with nothing.
Writing a will gives you the option to put proper tax planning in place
Many people mistakenly believe that inheritance tax (or death duty) is only owed by members of the aristocracy who pass down to their children a crumbling pile in the country, a smart flat in Mayfair, some fabulous art and antiques, and an eye-watering bill owed to the tax man. However, in the 2014/15 tax year the inheritance tax threshold is £325,000. With house prices rising, this means many folk will find that their estate owes death duties when they pass away. Inheritance tax is calculated at 40% on any part of your estate over £325,000 (or 36% if you leave 10% or more of your estate to charity). If you want an example of how nasty this looks consider:
If you die and leave an estate of £650,000, you will pay nothing on the first £325,000. After that your estate will be liable for death duties of £130,000 on the remaining £325,000 if you leave nothing to charity or put any form of tax planning in place.
If you have a valid will, you can save thousands of pounds in death duties via tax planning. For example, you can give away money before your death, but be warned, it will be subject to inheritance tax if you die within seven years of making the gift. There is also inheritance tax relief available for business assets, farms, National Heritage property and occasionally famous or important works of art http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/inheritancetax/pass-money-property/intro-iht-plannning.htm).
Gifts to trusts valued over the inheritance tax threshold may still be subject to inheritance tax, therefore, it is best to obtain sound legal advice when considering this avenue with regards to tax planning.
You can decide how you want to say goodbye
It may be hard enough to think about let alone talk about, but if you state your wishes on the way you desire to depart the world you can save your family a great deal of uncertainty. After all, you will no longer be around to consult. When you draw up a will you can write down preferences for the following:
- Whether you wish to be buried or cremated
- If you wish to donate some or all of your organs
- Any religious or spiritual elements you would like woven into your funeral
- The type of music and flowers you would prefer
- If you die abroad, whether you prefer your body to be buried in the country where you took your last breath or to be repatriated to your home country.
- Any other details that are important to you
Your funeral is the last special event you will be present at (in body if not in spirit). Wouldn’t you prefer to plan it and make it special not only for you, but your loved ones as well?
Lasting Power of Attorney
At the same time you draw up your will it is important to think about putting in place a ‘lasting power of attorney’ (formally ‘enduring power of attorney’ in England and Wales). This can save an awful lot of confusion and frustration if you become incapacitated and cannot manage your affairs. And remember, this is not just something that can happen when you get old, if you have an accident and suffer an incapacitating head injury for example, you will need someone to manage your affairs.
A ‘lasting power of attorney’ (LPA) is a legal document that will appoint people (known as attorneys) to make decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. There are two types of lasting powers of attorney:
- Health and welfare
- Financial and property
A health and welfare LPA allows you to appoint a trusted person to oversee your daily routine, make decisions regarding medicine and care and whether you should move to a rest home. A financial and property LPA gives the person you appoint the power to pay your bills, manage your bank accounts, and sell your home and assets.
Drawing up a will and an LPA is vital in order to protect your loved ones from the added stress and strain of being unsure of your wishes when you pass away or become incapacitated.
Why you need to have a will- Call one of our advisors today and have these vital documents drawn up. If nothing else, it will also ensure that your dreaded Great-Aunt Jane never gets her hands on that precious family heirloom.
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