Wills | 21st January 2017
If you’re over the age of 18, the only answer to the question “When should I start writing my will” should be “now”…but this is merely one part of a much bigger picture.
The real question is: “Why are so many people in Britain asking about wills, but not writing them?”
The amount of queries made to the Citizens Advice Bureau regarding wills and probate have doubled in recent years, yet more than two-thirds of the entire adult population in the UK do not have an official written will in place ready for their death.
Wills are crucial documents that every adult should have, so what is it that’s holding people back from getting started?
Here, Damsons take a closer look at will writing and what wills ought to typically entail whilst investigating the domestic trends surrounding wills in the current climate.
If someone dies without a will, this is known as “intestacy” or “dying interstate”. If an executor has no instructions to go on, an automatic legal process is triggered which sees the deceased individual’s estate divided up and passed along according to government rulings.
Intestacy is often problematic territory, as money might not go where it is initially expected to, and assets may be passed on into the “wrong” hands. For example, if a married couple with children were to go through a bitter separation but never actually file for divorce, the father or mother who has actively disconnected themselves from the family would likely inherit a portion of the estate if their legal spouse were to pass away without a will. Another scenario proving the importance of this document is the case of unmarried couples – who may not inherit anything from one another unless there is a will in place that instructs the estate executor otherwise.
A stereotypical Brit tends to postpone things, sometimes for as long as humanly possible. We laugh about it. After all, we all get around to doing these tasks eventually, and it’s delaying things is a quirky habit that’s simply in our nature…or so we keep telling ourselves. The endearing quality of procrastination that distinguishes the average UK citizen might not be so innocuous after all. In fact, one look at the latest will statistics reveals that it’s beginning to hamper our lives in a very significant way.
The warning signs have been there for some time, too. In 2015, Censuswide confirmed that British people spend 24 whole days a year on average putting off important tasks. Top of this list of tasks that Brits failed to prepare for in a timely manner was “planning financially for the future” – a category in which will writing undoubtedly falls into. The Institute of Inertia (a joint venture of Compare The Market and University of Sheffield) conducted a similar survey, with their findings revealing that as many as eight million Britons go to bed every night and lie awake worrying about things they haven’t yet completed, with as many as 9% not completing tasks until they have physically made themselves ill from stress.
According to the full data tables from the 2016 Tracker Survey conducted by YouGov, a paltry 37% of adults in England and Wales have written a will. 70% of those were over the age of 55, 35% were 45-54, and 22% were 35-44. Less than 10% of people aged 25-34 had written a will, and as little as 3% of 18-24 year-olds had decided to get their document started.
Alarmingly, this grand total of will owners has actually dropped from last year’s YouGov survey, which showed 38% of people had written a document ready for their death.
Yet, curiously, the Citizens Advice Bureau have continued to receive an increase in queries surrounding wills, including intestacy and execution problems. Since 2011, the organisation has claimed the amount of people getting in touch to ask questions about wills and probate has doubled, with query numbers rising from 1,522 to 3,747 in the space of just five years.
Ultimately, what this data suggests is that people in Britain are leaving it far too late to write their wills and/or are consistently finding themselves tied up in legal knots because of their hesitancy to act before it’s too late. According to the Institute of Inertia, one of the main ways in which we procrastinate is by browsing the internet. Wills can be completed entirely online, and given that accessing the web is clearly not an issue for Brits, the stats above reveal that the main issue is a lack of awareness of how important wills really are.
One of the most common reasons for putting off the will writing process – or abandoning it altogether – is a misplaced belief that you have nothing worth passing on. Everyone, and we mean everyone, has something worth handing over to their loved ones in the form of a will.
Any jewellery you’re wearing right now could be worth a fortune to inheritors, or may prove to be the perfect gift for a loved one as they’ll have something physical to remember you by. “Junk” stashed away in cobwebbed corners of your property or attic may seem as though it has no place in a will, but there is evidence to suggest that possessions like foreign currency, stamps, baseball cards, VHS tapes, books and comics may actually end up being worth thousands in a few decades’ time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could help your children to fund the purchase of their very first home simply by handing over your old possessions via your will?
Even people without these deceptively valuable dust-gathered items still have much to offer their friends and families by writing a will. Pieces of writing, letters, photographs, and souvenirs may not be worth anything to a pawn shop, but they could prove utterly invaluable in the hands of loved one. You can’t put a price on sentimentality.
Regardless of your financial situation, you’ll almost certainly have something worth passing on through a will that your inheritors will cherish for years to come.
Unpredictability is life’s greatest beauty, and yet its most sour quality all at once. We can predict, hope and wonder what will happen when we wake up every morning, but there is absolutely no way of us knowing. That’s why inspirational speakers and authors are constantly telling us to “live in the moment” and “act now” whilst we still can. That’s why you’re seeing so many bucket lists appear on your social media feeds at the beginning of each new year. That’s why treasuring every second of our time on this planet is more important than anything. The inevitable end that awaits us needn’t be a bleak concept – but rather one that kicks us into gear.
Writing a will is something that can be done in a matter of minutes, and once it’s complete, your family and loved ones will be treated to all your possessions and assets in a way you see fit. You might not have children right now. You may not even be married. But that doesn’t make writing a will any less of a vital act. Wills can be tweaked and changed at a moment’s notice, and by having all you core details in a document right from the very beginning, you can easily and effortlessly alter your will as you travel through life whenever you deem necessary, and ensure it’s all in order for when you reach the end.
Brian Sweigman, an Associate Lawyer for Goldstein, Rosen & Rassos LLP recommends revisiting your will after the occurrence of “trigger events” during your lifetime, times where circumstances will change and the details of your document will need to follow suit. These key moments include:
Even if you haven’t married, had children or bought yourself a home, it is still crucial to check your will every “three to five years”, according to Imelda Dodds, CEO of the NSW Trustee and Guardian. Something as simple as switching jobs or moving address will mean your will details require modification. Also, given how the average person’s financial situation changes drastically over the course of their lives, you will need to revisit your will to adjust figures for the amounts of money you are passing on and how it will be appropriately divided up. An outdated, incomplete, or unwritten will could see you hand over a few hundred pounds to your children when you pass away, when in reality you wanted them to receive the thousands that are still tied up in your estate.
The evidence is there. It’s time for Britain to wake up and start will writing. And a wise man once said: There’s no time like the present.
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