The importance of a will when your family is expanding
It’s probably not at the top of your ‘to do’ list but, as your family expands, it is important to consider making or reviewing an existing will otherwise you may be storing up potential future problems for your family. Not having a will in place could mean your assets may not automatically pass to those you want to benefit. If there is no will, your estate will be governed by the intestacy rules, so that the law dictates who receives your estate. As the law currently stands, if you’re married or have entered into a civil partnership and you die without a will, your spouse or partner will inherit the first £250,000 of your estate outright, which may leave your children with little or no inheritance.
Making a will ensures that those closest to you are looked after as you wish and is also an effective tax planning tool.
If you have children under 18 then a will is essential in naming a guardian who you would like to care for and bring up your children should you die before they reach 18. A guardian can be anyone aged 18 or over whom you trust: this could be a family member or a close friend. Guardians are responsible for the day to day care of children and are responsible for deciding how children are brought up, looked after and educated. You can also provide guidance for your chosen guardians as to how you would like your children to be raised, which many guardians find useful.
Guardianship involves a lot of responsibility and it is wise to ask people to agree to act before appointing them. If you have children and you fail to appoint a guardian to look after them, in the event that you die before they reach the age of 18 (and if no one else has parental control of your children) the Court will appoint guardians for you. It could take several months for the Court to appoint a guardian and in the intervening period your children could be taken into care. A Court appointed guardian will not necessarily be the person you would have preferred to look after your children.
Making a will also allows you to specify when you want your children to have control over any money left to them. The law dictates that children will automatically inherit at 18 unless otherwise specified, but many parents do not feel that their children will be able to handle large amounts of money responsibly at 18. You can provide details in your will of the age at which you are happy for your children to receive their inheritance, such as 21 or 25. If you decide that they are to inherit at an older age it does not mean your children will be left without any money, your executors and trustees have the discretion to use your money for your children’s maintenance and education until they reach the age you have specified.
In the event that you exclude any child of yours from benefiting under your will, that child may still have a right to claim a share of your assets in certain circumstances. It is important to discuss the specific implications of this with your legal advisor and measures that can be taken to avoid such claims.