You can't take it with you, but you can at least make sure you know where it's going after you've gone. A will is the only sure way to make sure that your money and property go where you want them to, yet around two-thirds of the adult population have never made a will and even a third of the over-50s have yet to put their wishes down in writing.
Common reasons for not making a will include “I'm too young”, “I've nothing of value to leave” and “it hadn't occurred to me” but it is never too early to write a will and what is certain is dying without a having made a will (the technical term is “intestate”) is good news for those relatives you fell out with years ago, but very bad news indeed for your nearest and dearest.
Don’t assume everything will go to your partner or children if you die
You may assume that your worldly goods will automatically pass to your partner or children on your demise, but your heirs (especially if you have step-children or other complicated family arrangements or you are not married or in a civil partnership) may find other family members making claims on your estate and will definitely find it takes a lot longer to get their hands on your loot.
The Government is waiting for those who die without a will
Even worse, if the Government can't find any obvious beneficiaries, your assets are claimed by the Treasury and given to Gordon Brown to spend. Making a will may not be the most pleasant tasks you've done today, but it could be the most important.
How do I draw up my will?
A will can be drawn up by a solicitor, a professional will-writer or even done at home, but while writing a will is not complicated, there are formalities that have to be followed. A will must be handwritten or typed, entered into voluntarily and signed by two witnesses, neither of whom should be a beneficiary of the will. You should name an executor, who will carry out the terms of the will when you die. The will should then be kept somewhere safely, whether at home, with a solicitor, bank or with the local District Probate Registry and your family and executor need to know where to find it.
Working out what you are worth
It is also useful to work out what you are worth – not just your cash and investments but also the value of your home and the value of any life insurance you have. If you're in permanent employment or have a mortgage, you may find that you are worth a good deal more dead than alive as both may have life insurance policies attached. As property prices have soared, more and more people are falling into the inheritance tax bracket and if the potential value of your estate is in excess of the current threshold of £285,000, it will almost certainly be worth contacting a solicitor to advise on how to keep the tax bill down.
For larger estates, it may also be worth looking at placing assets in trust - a legal structure in which a third party (the trustee) looks after the assets on behalf of the beneficiary - for your children if they are are unlikely to be mature to enough to handle inheriting all of your wealth in one go. In this way, you can make sure that your money is used responsibly, by granting an annual allowance for example, until your beneficiaries are ready even when you are no longer around to do it personally.
Trusts are very flexible – they can hold investments, property, case and even art and other valuables – and they can used for a wide variety of outcomes. To avoid future problems, however, it is very important that they are set up with great care and by experienced legal advisers as legal disputes over trusts can be ruinously expensive. Specialist tax, trusts and estates lawyers can be found in many mid-sized commercial law firms, particularly in the regions, specialist London firms and larger general regional law firms, although basic advice on trusts can be found on the High Street.