For people across the UK, providing for the future of your family is one of the most central priorities in your life. Writing a will is hugely important in delivering peace of mind in this regard – and yet it is also something that many people find easy to forget about, or deliberately choose to put off.
In many cases, this is due to an understandable unwillingness to consider one’s own mortality, or simply a desire to delay what can seem like a complicated task, but whatever the reason, there is no denying that this can end up as a hugely costly mistake.
The team at Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors recently carried out a survey to find out what steps people in the UK have taken to safeguard their legacies. The results revealed some worrying trends, with a huge percentage of Britons potentially setting themselves up for future legal conflicts and financial losses by failing to keep their wills up to date.
A potentially massive financial shortfall
A total of 1,083 British adults were asked about their attitudes to will writing, as well as the measures they have personally taken to protect their families in future. Of those surveyed, a majority – 66% – said they do not currently have a will in place at all.
This is a potentially significant trend; when extrapolated across the entire UK adult population, this would equate to as many as 36 million people across the country being at risk of dying intestate, meaning they would have no control over who would inherit their money, properties and other assets if they were to die unexpectedly.
With figures from the US investment firm Charles Stanley indicating that the average adult leaves behind £48,000 in assets when they die, this means that more than £173 billion worth of assets could end up falling into the wrong hands. Failing to write a will may mean, for example, that estranged spouses are favoured over unmarried current partners, or that unclaimed inheritance simply passes into ownership of the government, against the wishes of the deceased.
However, this failure to write a will was not the only concerning trend to be highlighted by the survey, as it was also demonstrated that most people who have written one do not update them regularly. Of those with a will, 69% have never updated them at all; meanwhile, even among the minority who had updated their will at some point, only 38% had done so in the last year.
This creates an additional risk that people are letting their wills become outdated, meaning the documents may no longer accurately represent their wishes or take into account any recent changes in their living circumstances.
Why are people failing to take action?
Writing a will fulfils a number of important functions in planning your future. Not only does it allow you to make proactive decisions about how your estate will be divided after you die, but it will also help your family to avoid the risk of inheritance tax bills or future legal disputes, as well as giving you a say in who will look after your children and dependants.
Most people intrinsically understand the importance of writing a will, but do not make a priority of actually doing so. The survey results bear this out, with 37% of those who do not have a will saying they simply have not gotten around to it yet, while a further 23% say they have not really thought about it.
Additionally, 22% said they considered themselves too young to need one and 16% cited the fact they are still in good health, suggesting that many are waiting until they fall ill before setting their affairs in order – an approach that is potentially fraught with risk.
The survey data also indicated that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is not having as much of a motivating effect in getting people to write a will as might be expected. Only 2% said the pandemic was the main reason why they wrote their current will, while a mere 11% said this would be a factor that would persuade them to write a will in future.
Making the right choices to move forward
With the benefits of writing a will – and the risks of failing to do so – in mind, it is vital that more people in the UK take the initiative on this important issue, or else their own estate could someday fall into the aforementioned £173 billion inheritance gap.
Making the right choices on will writing should begin with thoroughly researching all of the protections that a will can provide, before consulting with a trained solicitor on how to get going with the process of creating a will. This should include:
- Taking stock of all of the various properties and assets that you would want to include in the will
- Deciding who will be the beneficiaries of the will, whether these be family members, close friends, chosen charities or any other recipients
- Working with a solicitor to structure the will clearly, logically and comprehensively, ensuring there is no ambiguity about your wishes
- Choosing an executor or executors for your will, who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes after you die
- Making sure the will is signed and witnessed according to legal requirements, and ensures the will is treated as legally authoritative
By taking these steps, you can prevent the concept of will writing from being a future chore to be delayed, turning it instead into a reliable safeguard that provides ongoing peace of mind for you and your family.