Planning your finances in advance should help you ensure that when you die, everything you own goes where you want it to. Making a Will is the first step in ensuring that your estate is shared out exactly as you want it to be. If you don’t make a Will, there are rules for sharing out your estate called the ‘Law of Intestacy’, which could mean your money going to family members who may not need it, with your unmarried partner or a partner with whom you are not in a registered civil partnership receiving nothing at all.
If you leave everything to your spouse or registered civil partner, there’ll be no Inheritance Tax to pay because they are classed as an exempt beneficiary. Or you may decide to use your tax-free allowance to give some of your estate to someone else, or to a family trust.
A Will sets out who is to benefit from your property and possessions (your estate) after your death. There are many good reasons to make a Will:
• You can decide how your assets are shared – if you don’t have a Will, the law says who gets what
• If you’re an unmarried couple (whether or not it’s a same-sex relationship), you can make sure your partner is provided for
• If you’re divorced, you can decide whether to leave anything to your former partner
• You can make sure you don’t pay more Inheritance Tax than necessary
Before you write a Will, it’s a good idea to think about what you want included in it.
You should consider:
• How much money and what property and possessions you have
• Who do you want to benefit – your spouse or partner, children or other friends and relations? They become known as the beneficiaries who should look after any children under 18 years of age
• How much do you want to give them? You can either give a named legacy – such as a family heirloom or treasured item – or a monetary gift
• How do you own your home? If you own it as ‘tenants in common’ with your spouse or partner, then you each own a percentage that can be left to another person on death. Owning a property as ‘joint tenants’ means that you both own 100% and it solely belongs to the other on your death. Different property ownership rules apply in Scotland
• Who do you want to look after any of your children under the age of 18 when you die? They will become their legal guardians
• Who do you want to administer your Will when you die? They’re called ‘executors’, and their tasks include collecting in any outstanding debts to your estate, paying off any loans and IHT due, and then paying out what is left according to your wishes. Many couples name their partner as executor, but it could be worth choosing a second one in case you should both die at the same time
• Do you want to put your money into trust when you die to provide an income and capital for your dependants? If you do, consider getting professional financial advice about the best trust to use
• Who will look after the trust? A trustee can either be a family member or friend, or a professional such as a solicitor
Passing on your estate
An executor is the person responsible for passing on your estate. You can appoint an executor by naming them in your Will. The courts can also appoint other people to be responsible for doing this job. Once you’ve made your Will, it is important to keep it in a safe place and tell your executor, close friend or relative where it is.
It is advisable to review your Will every five years and after any major change in your life, such as getting separated, married or divorced, having a child, or moving house. Any change must be by codicil (an addition, amendment or supplement to a Will) or by making a new Will.
Scottish law on inheritance differs from English law.