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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 March 2005, 00:16 GMT
When to write a will
Money Talk
By Ian Burman
Probate lawyer at national law firm Laytons

Ian Burman
Ian Burman, probate lawyer at Laytons

A legal expert looks at when you should consider writing a will.

A common mistake is to think that because you may not have considerable savings or property, you do not need to make a will - everyone needs a will if they own any assets.

Why spend years attempting to create wealth and then take so little care to provide for loved ones, friends or charity.

The present rules governing your estate if you die without a will have scant regard for your wishes.

Key decisions

Even if your estate is worth only 5,000 you will need to decide to whom you will leave it, although clearly your need may not be as great as someone with 500,000 to leave.

There are no excuses for not making or reviewing your will. Act now, before it's too late
Ian Burman

Remember also that your will is not simply about deciding who gets what; it's also about appointing responsible people to administer your estate. You choose who takes those important financial decisions you are no longer around to take.

The best time to start considering making a will is when you buy your first property. Unless you have a 100% mortgage you will have some equity in the property and therefore something to leave.

There are also the contents of the property - and you may wish for them to go to a particular relation or friend on your death.

If you are buying a property jointly, you will also need to make some form of provision if you die - particularly, if you wish to leave anything to your partner rather than your family.

The law sets out clear rules for what happens to your estate - property, personal possessions and cash - if you die without a will.

Wedding bells

Don't forget if you marry you will have to start again, as marriage automatically revokes a will.

As the surviving spouse does not automatically inherit everything you will need a will to ensure your wishes are put into effect.

Once you are married and have a will, it doesn't end there.

If you are having children, then you will need to provide for them - and not just financially.

Here are some key questions:

  • Guardians: Who is going to bring your children up if you have both passed away?
  • How is their education to be funded?
  • Do you really want your children to get their hands on your money at 18 or would you rather safeguard it a little longer?

A properly drafted will can provide for all of these.

Keeping up to date

As your estate becomes more valuable, you may need to renew your will.

Regrettably, as you get older, the people you may wish to inherit your estate may die.

Make sure you include substitute beneficiaries in the event that any of your main beneficiaries die or you may find family members that you may not have intended to benefit will receive everything.

If you have not made a will do it now, and if you have made a will get it out and look at it.

Ask yourself: Have the circumstances of any of your main beneficiaries changed? Are you wealthier now than when you made your will?

There are no excuses for not making or reviewing your will. Act now, before it's too late.

This article deals with the legal position in England and Wales

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The information applies to England and Wales only. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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