Marilyn Stowe: Show your loved one you care – by making a will

NOW that the shops have taken down their Christmas decorations and the Easter break still seems a long way away, retailers around the country are filling the gap with their traditional February festival of hearts, flowers and far too many chocolates than are probably good for you. Valentine’s Day is definitely almost upon us.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s romantic parade because I like flowers as much as anyone, but speaking from a legal perspective, probably the best way you can show your loved one you care is to make a will. If you do have a will how old is it? Does it need revisiting?

It’s one of those things that we always mean to get around to, but often neglect to do because other things seem more immediately important.

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Imagine if you were to pass away unexpectedly without having made a will or without reviewing the terms of an old will; your family could be in for a nasty shock and a lot of financial confusion including paying too much tax on top of the inevitable emotional distress they’ll be going through.

This might mean discovering a will made years ago before a remarriage and never updated became void as soon as the remarriage took place, or a gift made to a divorced spouse no longer applies.

The legal term for dying without leaving a will is “intestacy” There are detailed intestacy rules that determine how finances and other assets are distributed where account is taken of how much money is involved, whether the person was married or in a civil partnership and whether there are children left behind.

The intestacy rules changed last October through the Inheritance and Trustees Act 2014 which impacts spouses, civil partners, unmarried fathers and adopted children.

The rule changes provide some benefit to safeguard the rights of a surviving spouse where there are no children involved and also provide a simpler sharing arrangement where there is a spouse and children, but the issue remains that to die without a will (whatever your circumstances) simply takes the decision as who will benefit out of your hands.

Importantly, the new rules do not change the lot of the fastest growing demographic – co-habitees.

There is no protection at all under the intestacy rules for a surviving partner.

More and more couples are living together, with latest figures showing that co-habiting couples have grown by nearly 30 per cent in the last 10 years.

Yet did you know that in law cohabitants are not legally connected? They may have lived their adult life together but on the death of one without a will, the estate will not automatically pass to their partner.

Even if the house automatically passes to the other on death if they owned as “joint tenants”, this can still be challenged by someone else who feels they have a better claim on the deceased person’s estate.

So the estate might pass exactly where you don’t want it to go and there is nothing else to do but start expensive litigation under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 – assuming that is you have a claim to make.

Add in nearly half the children in the UK are born outside of marriage or civil partnership into different family units and it is clear that if you don’t have an up-to-date will, then things can get very confusing for your loved ones very rapidly if the state gets involved.

It is vital to get expert legal guidance whether you are making your first will, revisiting an existing will, or making major alterations as the result of a life change.

Going to a STEP-qualified solicitor means they are a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, an internationally recognised body of experts in this field.

They will make sure that your will is tax-effective and accurately reflects your wishes so that your loved ones are provided for after you’ve gone.

It is also worth bearing in mind that with an aging population, a robust will and/or power of attorney is important if there are any questions about mental capacity or if there is a suggestion of undue influence brought to bear.

No matter how much of a planner you are, no one likes to think about their own death. But better to think about it now and make sure you document your wishes, than have someone 
else make those decisions after you’re gone.

So this Valentine’s Day, enjoy the chocolates and definitely smell the roses. But in the end, a Valentine card is just for one day, but a properly drawn up will does afford you and your loved ones peace of mind for years to come.