IT can be difficult to talk about death with your loved ones, but writing a will can give you peace of mind about the big decisions.
But it’s easy to get caught in some potential pitfalls, which could mean that your wishes can’t be carried out exactly as you planned – or could even leave loved ones homeless.
Some mistakes might mean that people are unintentionally left out of your will, or your family has to wade through lots of paperwork to find out what you owned.
The latest data shows that over 30 million UK adults – three in five people – haven’t written a will, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary delays and upsetting disputes at a very difficult time.
Furthermore, only 1% of people know all their loved one’s funeral wishes – and 19% didn’t know any of their wishes at all.
Of those who know their wishes, 62% had been told directly, 18% were told by family and friends, and 16% found out from the will.
Dan Garrett, chief executive of will writing company Farewill, says it is important to set out what you want to happen now so that your family have peace of mind when you die.
Here are some potential problems you want to avoid:
Mistake 1: not making a will
First things first: you need to make a will to start with.
Not having a will means you die intestate – and that means you don’t get a say in how your assets are divvied up.
Instead, your assets will go to whoever the law says inherits them – and that might not be what you wanted.
This is particularly troublesome if you’re in a relationship but not married, as only those in a marriage or civil partnership automatically inherit their partner’s assets.
Dying intestate can also make the process a lot longer and more difficult for your loved ones.
People assume that writing a will takes a long time and is expensive, but Dan says that just isn’t true.
He reckons you can put together a basic will in as little as 15 minutes.
“There’s been a real transformation over the last five years in terms of people going to traditional will services on the high street versus doing it online,” he says.
Many online companies offer a quick and inexpensive service to help you write a will.
“People think it’s a massive pain, but it doesn’t have to be,” Dan adds.
Mistake 2: Not appointing guardians
If you have kids, you need to think about what might happen to them in the unlikely event that you, as their parent or primary carer, die.
“One of the biggest areas of complication when someone dies is who looks after their child,” says Dan.
If you don’t specify your wishes, there could be a custody battle for your child where people fight over who they will live with.
Or, in some instances, it could be that no one wants to take them, warns Dan.
In this scenario, not appointing a guardian could see your child left homeless.
By specifying a guardian for your little one, you can be sure that they will be taken care of if you die – but be sure to let the person you choose know!
Mistake 3: Not listing all your assets
Unless you have a clear will, your relatives may be faced with the task of going through your paperwork to try and work out what you owned.
This could include property, money in bank accounts, or other possessions.
Listing all this out clearly helps your family know what’s what.
“There are actually a huge amount of unclaimed assets in the UK because of lost pensions or life insurance documents, or bank accounts people can’t find,” Dan explains.
“There was a bit of work done in 2017 that claimed the average cost of not making a will and not making your assets clear enough was £9,700 per person.”
More recently, research has shown there were 117 unclaimed estates in 2021 alone, leaving £117million of assets unclaimed.
Taking time to organise your affairs and make them clear could save your family a huge headache.
Mistake 4: Not getting it witnessed
You need to have two people over the age of 18 who are not going to benefit from the will with you when you sign it.
They need to sign to say that they have been there, Dan explains, and this has to be done in person.
“It’s still pretty old fashioned, but it isn’t legally binding unless it’s witnessed,” he says.
Failing to get your will witnessed means it’s completely invalidated and you might as well as have not written one.
It’s a simple but crucial step that is the difference between your wishes getting carried out or you dying intestate.
Mistake 5: Not stating your funeral wishes
Writing a few lines in your will stating what you want for your funeral can take a lot of the guesswork away for your family and friends.
“You might want all the pomp and ceremony, or you might want to have really small, simple, intimate celebrations of your life – but letting your family know really helps them,” Dan says.
Ultimately, writing a will is a selfless act to take a lot of hassle away from those who will be dealing with your death, he adds.
We’ve looked at the UK towns with the most unclaimed estates – how close are you to inheriting a fortune?
It’s really important to get a will written properly – or risk a court battle.