Reading... 5 Common Misconceptions about Writing a Will
Back to top

5 Common Misconceptions about Writing a Will

Most of us, without good reason, never think about drawing up a will.

Some of the most common reasons for this are:

  • you believe that the end of your life will never happen,
  • you believe that making a will takes up too much time and is too expensive,
  • you believe that your family is capable of dividing assets fairly if you die suddenly,
  • you believe that you do not have enough wealth to worry about making a will, and
  • you believe that any debts will die with you.

These beliefs are all misconceptions when it comes to making a will.

  • Everyone’s life comes to an end sooner or later – Hopefully, for most of us, we will all live to a ripe old age, having gained the most out of life. Unfortunately, there are situations where for some, life is shortened without warning, whether it be from a sudden but short illness or a fatal accident. As the future is uncertain, having a will in place ensures some stability and control over what will happen when you die.
  • Writing a will takes up very little time – Creating a will is a cost-effective, worry-free solution that is over and done with within a matter of minutes and at little expense. If anyone has told you that making a will is long-winded and expensive, then you have been misinformed.
  • Your family does not have to worry about how your estate is distributed – When you have a will in place, it gives you and your family peace of mind over how your estate will be distributed. Your wishes are clearly detailed and your executor just has to follow your instructions. At a difficult time, a will can provide some much-needed stability and reassurance for close family.
  • Most people have something left of value when they die – The fact of the matter is that there are few people, at least in the UK, who are completely penniless when they die. They might leave a car behind, some jewellery, some good-quality sports equipment or even a pet dog. Someone has to take legal responsibility for the distribution of any assets. For low-value items, there is a strong likelihood that the person responsible will have no difficulty in distributing this part of the estate fairly.
  • Debts are not cancelled when you die – Your next of kin will inherit your debts, so clearly stating the details of your estate in a last will and testament will ensure that your next of kin is able to settle any debts quickly and easily.

Provide Ongoing Care for Your Pet

When you decide the time is right to make a will, you should not forget any pets you have in your care. They deserve to live on at the same comfort level that you have provided for them. There are certain things that you cannot do when including your pet in your will, such as leaving money to your pet and leaving property to your pet.

You can make a provision in your will where you leave your pet with a trustworthy person who has already agreed to the responsibility. Money can be left to this person in your will to pay for any expenses. You do not have to make a legal arrangement if the arrangement can be made by word of mouth.

If you cannot find an individual to care for your pet, there are organisations that take care of pets when their owners have died. If you need this option, it is a good idea to do some research first to find a willing organisation. What you should take into account, however, is that if you leave money to the potential carer of your pet, then that person is not legally obliged to use the money for that purpose.

If you want to be more certain of your pet’s future and you think it is worth the extra cost, then you can set up a pet trust which is legally binding. In a pet trust document, which you draw up with a lawyer, you can do any or all of the following:

  • Provide the caretaker’s name
  • Leave money for your pet’s care
  • Provide a description of your care plan for your pet
  • Provide the name of a person who would represent you in court to enforce the conditions of the pet trust
  • State where any surplus money should go if the pet dies

Dying Without a Will

What brings complications and bitterness is when an estate that has some value and has to be distributed is left without a will. Family members may start to squabble if they think they have been unfairly treated. Conflicts in normally harmonious families suddenly start to rear their ugly heads. Relationships may even disintegrate completely, never to be rekindled. Families may become suspicious of the person who, by default, has to take responsibility for clearing the silver out of a deceased relative’s house as well as selling the property.

Once relationships have become so strained, it is difficult to return to normal. Those regular extended family get-togethers come to an end, phone calls stop, birthday presents and Christmas gifts cease and so on, all because a family member failed to make a will.

Just give this situation a bit of thought and you may realise that making a will may not be such a bad idea after all.

What Is an Estate?

An estate is everything you own whether it is in the form of money or investments or your home and its contents. Your car and your bank account are included in your estate. A gold ring on your finger is part of your estate, as is your mobile phone and iPad. When you die, your will determines who inherits everything you own. To avoid putting stress on your family, you have to be specific about who will inherit even the smallest and least expensive item.

You must remember that debts are not dismissed when you die.

What Is an Estate Plan?

A simple estate plan is a way of sorting out your property. It can include a will, a trust, a living will, and a power of attorney.

A living will actually has nothing to do with asset distribution, but it is a legal document that defines what medical care you should be provided with when you are nearing the end of your life. It is usually termed an "advance healthcare directive" and is only used before your death. It helps your family decide what to do when you are going to die soon and you no longer have the ability to speak for yourself, and it is based on the type of health care you have requested. The following information may be included in a living will:

  • When CPR should be given
  • When a DNR (do not resuscitate) order should occur
  • When and if you should be put on life support
  • When life support should be stopped
  • Your decision regarding organ donation and if you wish for your organs to be donated once you have died

If you become incapacitated in some way, your medical professional will listen to you first until you are no longer intelligible. A healthcare power of attorney nominated by you will then step in to mediate on your behalf. This is a person you have chosen to make medical decisions for you when you are no longer able to. The person’s name is included on a legal document. A healthcare directive, which is legally binding and decided by you, includes the following information:

  • The name of the person who will make healthcare decisions on your behalf once you are no longer able to
  • Your preferred healthcare choices
  • Your decision regarding organ donation
  • What arrangements you would like once you have died (e.g. funeral arrangements)

There are also situations where you may become too incapacitated to handle your finances. For example, you may develop dementia or you may have a serious accident that causes you to lose your ability to make sensible decisions, particularly about your finances. This is where a financial power of attorney can step in and take control of your money on your behalf. Appointing a financial power of attorney ensures that your bills get paid and any dependent family members are looked after.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is an arrangement that you make legally with a third party to safeguard your assets on your behalf. The person appointed by you to take on this responsibility is called the trustee. It ensures that when you die, the beneficiaries of your estate can ignore probate and gain access to your assets far more quickly than in the absence of a trust.

There are two types of trusts: revocable or irrevocable. A revocable living trust is more flexible and allows you to make changes whenever you choose. An irrevocable living trust cannot be changed once it has been formed but offers more tax advantages.

A trust normally holds both your property and other assets while you act as the trustee throughout your life, and then an appointed beneficiary takes control.

10 FAQs about Making a Will

By law, do I have to make a will?

No. There is no law that exists in the UK that forces you to make a will.

Is it expensive to make a will?

You can pay almost nothing by doing most of the paperwork yourself, or you can pay a lawyer to guide you through the process.

Is it true that only wealthy people need to make a will?

There is more to making a will than extensive wealth ownership, as most people do have possessions. Even if it is just a car, a decision has to be made as to whom will inherit it.

What happens to my money and assets if I die without making a will?

If you have not made a will and you die, the state will play a role in deciding who is entitled to inherit your estate, which may not be who you would prefer.

What happens if I am seriously injured and I don’t have a healthcare power of attorney?

A next of kin will make decisions on your behalf, but it could cause unnecessary squabbling.

Once I have made a will, can it be altered?

Yes, but only by you and through the use of a codicil, which is a legal document.

Do I have to leave my whole estate to my spouse if he or she survives me?

No. You can choose your own beneficiaries.

Does the person I name to distribute my estate have to be a relative?

No, it does not have to be a relative, but it should be someone you can trust to do the job well. You can name your own lawyer if you wish.

Can beneficiaries named by me in my will dispute their share of my estate?

They can, but it is a lengthy and costly legal process.

How can I be assured that no disputes between my beneficiaries will take place upon my death?

You may, if you wish, consult with your intended beneficiaries before finalising your last will and testament. This may help to avert conflicts.

Weird Wills – Proof that Wills Are Not Just about Property or Money!

Some wills are not just about money or property. The following rather unusual requests were made by a number of famous people over the years to prove just that:

  • Iconic American actor and comedian, Jack Benny, wished to leave his wife a reminder of how much he loved her. When he died in 1974, he wrote in his will that a red rose with a long stem should be delivered to her personally every day for the remainder of her life.
  • Songwriter Janis Joplin died tragically in 1970. She stated in her will that $2,500 should be set aside for a wake party.
  • The famous magician Harry Houdini, who passed away in 1926, left to his wife ten random words. In his will it was stated that each Halloween after his death he would use the ten words to communicate with her. Following his death and for ten years after, his wife followed his wishes but stopped when she failed to communicate with him.
  • The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991, stated in his will that his ashes should be deposited in space in a rocket-carrying capsule. This was done, but the capsule disintegrated before reaching space.
  • Mark Gruenwald, the Marvel Comics hero, died in 1996 of a heart attack. He stated in his will that his ashes should be combined with ink and then be used for the printing of comic books.
  • Fred Baur, the Pringles potato chip founder, who died in 2008, stated in his will that part of his remains had to be buried in a Pringles container. That is exactly what happened to them!
  • Some bequests in wills are not tangible at all. Robert Louis Stevenson, renowned author of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, died in 1894. He left something very unusual to a friend named Annie H. Ides who had always complained about having her birthday on Christmas day. To help her out, he left her his birth date, which was November 13th.