During this period when the COVID-19 outbreak has confined many of us to our homes, a lot of people are looking for productive ways to spend their time. Painting your walls, perfecting your banana bread, learning to play the harp. But how about checking your Will? This is not a cheery topic at the best of times, but the present situation does bring the matter into focus.
Simply having a Will in place is not the end of the matter. You need to review your Will on a regular basis to ensure that it is still fit for purpose. An out-of-date Will can sometimes be worse than having no Will at all!
Here are three key questions to ask yourself about your Will:
- Who are my executors?
Executors play an essential role in administering your estate. The are responsible for managing your assets, completing Court and tax paperwork, and paying out to your beneficiaries. Without them, nothing gets done.It is very easy for this part of a Will to go out of date: the original executors may have died or become elderly or infirm; they may have moved somewhere far away; or they may simply no longer be in your life. In the case of executors who are solicitors, they may have retired. Your financial affairs may be more complex now than before: perhaps you now have investments or properties, or perhaps you have your own business. You should think carefully about who you appoint as your executors, as they need to be capable of handling those things. You can appoint different executors with different skills: a family member alongside a professional like a solicitor or accountant, for example.It is generally a good idea to include someone younger than you where possible, on the basis that your executor needs to be both alive and well enough to do the job come the time of your death.
- Who are my beneficiaries?
Perhaps the most important job of all: deciding who inherits your estate. The plan in your current Will may have been fine at the time, but ask yourself: what has changed? Have you had children or grandchildren? Has anybody in the Will died? Have you gotten married or divorced, or started or ended a relationship? Or have any of those things happened to your beneficiaries? For instance, your Will might still include former sons or daughters-in-law.You should also check whether your Will contains a Plan B in case a beneficiary dies before you. Does their inheritance go to their own children, or does it go to someone else, or even to a charity?
- What are my priorities?
Wills also provide a useful way to put plans in place for your beneficiaries based on their specific needs. Here are just a few examples: Are you a ‘second time round’ family? In which case your Will may need to strike a balance between the needs of your surviving partner, and the eventual inheritance of your own children. Are your beneficiaries still a little young? Perhaps your Will should include a trust to manage their inheritance until they reach a particular age. Are you worried about care costs? Perhaps your Will should be structured to avoid leaving assets outright to a beneficiary who is going to require residential or nursing care. Do you have a beneficiary who is vulnerable or depends on means-tested benefits? Perhaps your Will should include a trust for that person, in order to provide financial protection but without jeopardising their eligibility for benefits.
Here’s a tip: with your current Will in front of you, run a simulation by asking yourself: what if I died now? Work out who would be in charge and what would happen with your estate. Are you happy with the result? If not, you need to make a change!
Our solicitors are still able to help you with these matters, despite not being able to see clients face-to-face. With the help of technology, this can be done from the comfort of your own home fairly easily. My colleague Robyn Lee has recently written about that very topic.
Should you have any queries, or wish to contact one of our solicitors regarding your Will and Power of Attorney, please get in touch using the contact details below, and we would be happy to assist you.
Stewart Dunbar WS, Associate Solicitor
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