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Making a Will: Five Easy Mistakes

Making a will can be stressful and emotionally difficult but, when you care about the long-term future of your loved ones, making a will is essential. You have worked hard your entire life. Do you really want all your money to be distributed against your wishes after your death?

Here are five mistakes to avoid:

28 September 2016
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  • Failing to update your will: Situations change in the course of a lifetime. When did you make or last update your will? 10 years ago? More? Since then, have grandchildren arrived? Have your children divorced and remarried? Have you? Are stepchildren now part of your family mix? Remember, verbal wishes lack the legal power of a will. Are you sure your wealth will flow to your wonderful grandchildren, after your death, as you wish, or might that money actually be diverted to another branch of your family tree? Update your will to make sure your wishes must be met. Similarly, do you want your estate (which is the entirety of your money and property at the time of your death) to go to the wife from whom you are now bitterly separated or the beloved woman with whom you now live? Furthermore, your executor might have died since you made your will – the executor is the person you appoint to carry out the terms of your will – which leads us to another potential problem…
  • Naming an unsuitable executor: Your executor should be trustworthy, responsible and calm under pressure. The executor’s responsibilities will include distributing your estate to the relevant parties under the terms of your will. Don’t risk the financial futures of your loved ones by appointing an unreliable executor.
  • Failing to prepare for the worst: If you die tomorrow, you know your spouse will take care of your infant children. But what would happen to those children if you and your spouse died at the same time? You should appoint a guardian to look after your children, in the event of your deaths, until the children reach the age of 18. The appointment of a guardian needs to be made in writing, signed and dated, and is therefore suitable for inclusion in your will. If you don’t appoint a guardian, and your children are under 18 and left without a parent, the courts will appoint guardians. Those guardians, however, might not be the people you would have chosen.
  • Assuming you own the house in which you live: Are you sure you would own the house you live in if your spouse or partner died tomorrow? You can, for example, jointly own a property as ‘joint tenants’ (with equal rights to the whole property) or ‘tenants in common’ (whereby you can own differing shares in the property). As joint tenants (sometimes known as ‘beneficial joint tenants’), the property automatically passes to the other owner if one of you dies and you therefore cannot pass on your ownership of the property in your will. If, however, you and your partner are ‘tenants in common’, the property will not automatically pass to the other owner if one of you dies and you can pass on your share of the property in your will.
  • Preparing an illegal will: Your will must be signed and dated by you in front of two witnesses (both over 18 years of age), who must then sign the document themselves in your presence. The witnesses cannot be people (or married to people) who will inherit anything from you.

If you have any doubts about your will, check with a professional.