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


gloriamundi said...

Excellent advice Margaret. I wonder if the too-widespread reluctance to make a will is a side-shoot of our culture's inability to face the fact of human mortality? I guess it's only natural not to enjoy contemplating one's own absence from the world, but if one doesn't come to terms with it, then a will is an uncomfortable document to approach. Unless you're young, in which case, you know, of course, that you'll live for ever...

I think it's very helpful of you to take the opportunity of baby-naming to get people to think about a will. It seems to be the realisation that a very small and helpless being is entirely dependant on you that makes you do a "what if" and get on with a will; but then there's the whole very-busy-midlife-family-job-ageing-parents stuff that helps people put off making, or revising, a will.

Which reminds me...must get on to it.

Margaret said...

Jolly good, glad you're sorting it.

dell1015 said...

• I agree with Gloriamundi, you have definitely provided excellent advice Margaret. I was planning on getting a Will written up for a few months now but I just have not had the time to research into it, it sounds like there is so many nitty gritty information you have to look over. Can you possibly provide me with some good companies I can turn to do this as you stated that not all of them are good. Also another reason I feel it is important to get one done is because a distant relative of mine recently had to contact a probate lawyer to make sure that the property and possessions held in the sole name of the deceased was released. She had to contact ITC legal services but it just made the process long and stressful in this already morbid situation.

Margaret said...

No, I can't specify any particular companies outside my area, but you should be able to find a solicitor, a member of The Law Society, who's familiar with wills and probate, through your nearest CAB.

Margaret said...

BTW, will-writers aren't solicitors. From what I've heard, anyone can set him or herself up as a will-writer, but they're not covered by the same professional code of practice as a member of the Law Society is.