Will you be making life easier for your nearest and dearest in November?
November is Make a Will Month, when the normal £85 legal fee for drawing up a Will is donated to Will Aid, a charity that helps worthy causes.
Nearly 70% of people in the UK do not have a Will. But why do so many people overlook this vital issue?
In 2010 the Treasury gained £53m from people who died without a Will (or intestate). While this was more than £20m less than in 2009, fragmented modern families and the increasing use of the law means Will-making should be a priority for everyone.
To clear up some misconceptions, here are a few good reasons for making a Will through the best available channels.
First, making a Will does not mean you are about to die. But there are many people who would sooner not face what will one day become an inevitability.
Then there's the issue of the preliminary form. This must be completed correctly, otherwise your entire family could be cut out. The language of Wills is certainly confusing and antiquated, and getting around the legal jargon makes the situation all the more stressful.
Sian Thompson of Simpson Millar LLP says the language is improving. "Unfortunately we have to navigate a minefield of legal precedents in the way things are expressed, but the legal profession is doing its best to make everything clearer."
However, Sian cautions against 'DIY' Wills. "Solicitors are there to interpret the complex language," she says. "The danger is that a Will written without legal oversight, which are available from the internet or can be made with specialised software, are often invalid."
Sian concedes that 'off-the-peg' Wills are popular. "They can be cheap and quick, and provided they're completed properly are perfectly valid. But with so much potentially at stake in the long term, the comparatively modest fees spent with a solicitor who knows every last legal detail – the kinds of things not covered by off-the-shelf products – could be money very well spent indeed."
Such legal issues, already highly testing, are potentially compounded as individual situations become more complicated. For families whose parents are unmarried yet have children, not having a Will can have a devastating impact.
After suffering a pulmonary embolism in 2009, Richard Moore died intestate. Richard's brother, Dr Jeremy Moore, says that after Richard's death the family was advised that, since he was unmarried and had no dependants, his estate would be shared equally between his surviving parents.
However, "Richard's biological father played almost no part in his upbringing," says Dr Moore. "My mother divorced my father in the early 1970s. He was not part of our lives."
For all this, Richard's biological father accepted what the law entitled him to.
"It was my mother's responsibility to find my father, pay legal fees and then meet the costs of tracking him down," says Dr Moore. "Then we had to sell his home and his possessions - his CDs, DVDs, his clothes - all for this stranger who didn't even send a birthday card."
In another case, Stephen Travis and Joanna Thompson of Brighton have lived together for 10 years. Although they are unmarried, they have a son. Neither of the couple has a Will.
"Making a Will is not something that I have ever thought about," said Stephen. "It isn't a priority. It's also a tricky thing to bring up without sounding like you want to ensure your inheritance."
However, if her partner died intestate, Joanna would receive nothing. Their house was originally his property, and even though they have shared the mortgage for 10 years, Joanna would have no claim if he died. Stephen's assets would automatically pass to their 3-year-old son, leaving Joanna to cope on her own until the son comes of age – assuming their relationship remains solid.
Sian Thompson says: "Given that some parents have had to sue their own children just for enough cash to live, this couple is highly exposed. And what if they both died? What then for their little boy?"
"Clearly the fundamental reasoning behind drawing up a Will is that, if you do suddenly die, things are easier for your loved ones and they have something to fall back on."