The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a will. For many people, the thought of making a will can be quite daunting, particularly as it can be seen as a complicated process. Added to this are the worries about how to fairly distribute assets between loved ones while juggling with family politics.
The statistics of those who do not have a will are quite startling. Nearly a third of people over the age of 55 still don’t have a will, according to Unbiased.
Research from the Law Society backs this up, with 59% of respondents to a recent survey saying they do not have a will. The main reasons people gave for not making a will were that they thought they were too young (18%) or they couldn’t find the time (20%).
Our survey, conducted during the first lockdown, also found that will-making is not seen as a high priority within certain communities such as Asian and minority ethnic, Black and those living in urban areas.
Only 25% of those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds had a will, compared to 42% of white respondents. Similarly, only 36% of people in urban areas had a will compared to 54% from rural areas.
Last year, the Law Society worked hard to help the Ministry of Justice introduce video witnessing for wills so that people were able to continue to make wills safely and thereby put their affairs in order.
Answers to some of the more common questions that people ask when they are considering whether they need to make a will are set out below.
Why do I need to make a will?
There are two main reasons why you should make a will. The first reason is that you decide what happens to your property, money and assets after your death. If you do not make a will, the intestacy rules will apply and that could lead to beneficiaries you did not want inheriting some or all of whatever you leave behind.
The second reason is that it is so important to make your wishes and feelings clear in a will to help remove some of the burden on your loved ones when you pass away. A properly drafted will is legally binding so you can minimise the risk of any confusion or disputes about your wishes after your death.
Solicitors can help you think about the things you may want to include in your will, such as how to deal with your property, your finances and other assets. Such assets could include jewellery and cars, but you also need to think about things like who should have access to your digital assets (emails, social media or photographs stored online).
A solicitor will be able to advise you on all these matters and will also be able to explain the options that are available to you if, for example, you have young children and need advice on how to make sure they are looked after and provided for after your death.
You can use the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor service to find a local solicitor who specialises in drafting wills.
How does religion and faith impact on the preparation of wills?
Faith can have an impact and this will depend on the individual making the will. Historically Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian faiths have all had impacts on how wills should be drafted and these considerations can still apply now.
The contents of a will may vary according to which branch of Islam someone subscribes to, with different relatives assigned specified proportions of an inheritance and a further proportion to be given to good causes. Sharia compliant wills can be drafted in England and Wales and there are solicitors who specialise in this area.
In Asia, multi-denominational countries like India have legislation to protect the inheritance and succession rights of different religious groups. Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists are protected under one branch and Muslims follow external Sharia law.
In England and Wales, we have complete testamentary freedom so if a client wants their will to reflect their beliefs, then that’s provided for in inheritance law. There are solicitors who specialise in drafting wills that are compliant with faith and religious beliefs.
How can I sign my will?
You don’t have to go into an office to sign your will. Even before the pandemic, solicitors found ways to make this process as easy and simple for clients as possible.
Your solicitor can meet you in a well-ventilated space, such as your garden, or post your will out for you to sign in the presence of a witness and then return.
Can a family member witness my will signing?
No. A will should be witnessed by an independent person not related to you.
The law does not allow anyone who is a beneficiary in a will to be a witness for that will. This rule exists to protect vulnerable people against undue influence.
It is best not to use family members as witnesses to avoid any dispute over the provisions in the will in the future.
The Law Society has a section on its website for the public, which includes helpful advice on many issues including how to find a solicitor and helpful guides on common legal issues, such as how to make a will.