When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

If you haven't already done so, make a will

I met someone at a party last night who was recently bereaved. Her distress was compounded by the fact that her partner hadn't made a will and as they weren't married, she has a complicated mess to sort out. Presumably they shared a home. I didn't ask the details, but it's not certain that she'll be able to continue living in it. During this conversation, it emerged that our host hadn't made a will either. He's not alone; I've read varying estimates of the proportion of British people who haven't make wills; it's a staggering number, between half and two thirds of the adult population. I've written about this sort of thing before.

One case that I remember involved a wealthy Suffolk woman who'd told her friends that she wanted her estate to go to an animal welfare charity; she was a childless cat-lover with no immediate family. Later, it emerged that because she hadn't actually got around to making a will, her entire estate went to the state and the pussy-cats got nothing.

Whenever I've interviewed parents about baby-naming ceremonies, I've always advised them to make wills - one each. Most young people probably imagine that they don't need to think about it, but if you have children, even if you have hardly any money, you can name the people who'll be your children's guardians in the event of your deaths. Suppose you were both wiped out in the same car accident? Who would be the best people to be responsible for your children until they come of age? Your closest relatives may not be the best choice. If you have a baby-naming ceremony, the mentors (the non-religious equivalent of god-parents) can be the same people you've named as the child's guardians.

I first made a will when my son was a baby and it's been updated two or three times since, most recently to bequeath my body to the anatomists at Cambridge university, so that the medical students can make use of it. My solicitor has a copy, and there's one in a fire-proof box at home. No one will have any trouble sorting out who gets what when I'm dead.

You can make a will just by buying a legal-looking form and filling it in yourself, with a couple of people acting as witnesses, but this is risky - too often, mistakes are made that renders the will invalid. There are will-writing firms who advertise online and in the press, but treat them with caution. A friend tried one once, to update her will, and after they'd hung on to her most important documents for months without producing a will, she had to threaten legal action to retrieve them. The best approach is to use a solicitor. If your will isn't complicated, the fee won't be high. If you don't know where to find a solicitor who deals with probate and wills, ask the CAB.

Read about making a will on the Law Society's website
Read what happens if you don't make a will