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. 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. 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. You may assume that your worldly goods will automatically pass to your partner or children on your demise. However, 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 it takes a lot longer to get their hands on your loot. 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. 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. 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 risen, 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 £312,000, 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.
The process of Probate describes the process of gaining permission from the Probate Registry (part of the court system) to deal with a deceased person's estate, which is normally done by the executor(s) named in the will. On gaining permission, known as a Grant of Representation, the executor can sell the deceased's assets and pay the proceeds to the beneficiaries named in the will or transfer assets as appropriate. If no will was left, then a close relative of the deceased can apply to the Probate Registry to be appointed as an 'administrator' of the estate and must distribute the assets according to the laws of intestacy (see making a will). However, if the value of an estate is very small or the assets are jointly-held and just passing from one spouse to another, then applying for Grant of Probate may not be necessary as financial institutions will make the transfer on seeing the death certificate. To apply for permission to sell and distribute the assets, an executor will have to supply the death certificate and an original copy of the will. The application process can be handled by a solicitor or personally by the executor, in which case the executor will also have to attend an interview at their local probate office. For estates worth more than the inheritance tax threshold (presently £312,000), the probate process presents a major headache.
Gaining the Grant of Representation takes at least six weeks, but can take months if there are complications with the will, but some, if not all, of the inheritance tax due needs to be paid almost immediately. The exception is when an estate is passing from one spouse to another, in which case no inheritance tax is payable.
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