According to research carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support, nearly two-thirds of UK adults (around 31 million people) have not made a Will.
People do not make a Will or put off making one until it is too late because the risks are not understood — or they believe the benefits of writing a Will do not apply in their circumstances.
For the majority of people though, writing a Will could be one of the most critical decisions they make in their lives.
Will writing is as old as the ages
A Will is a powerful document — written to provide a full legal legacy and prevent disinheritance.
The written Will was reportedly invented in Greece over 2,500 years ago by the Athenian statesman Solon, as a device intended for men who died without an heir.
One of history’s most noteworthy Wills (and a compelling example of the importance of legacy) is the Will written by Julius Ceaser.
In his Will, Ceaser named his grand-nephew and adopted son Augustus Octavian sole heir. The legacy not only legitimised Octavian’s rise to political power but also provided the wealth and resources needed to fight the civil wars — in turn giving rise to the birth of the Roman Empire.
The longest known Will ever filed for probate is that of Frederica Evelyn Stillwell Cook in 1925. It ran to 1,066 pages.
The shortest known legal Wills were those of Bimil Rishi (“all to son”), and Karl Tausch (“all to wife”).
Also, one of the most bizarre holographic Wills accepted into probate was that of Canadian farmer Cecil George Harris — who after becoming trapped under his tractor carved an intention into the fender which read, “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris.”
The phrase “Will and Testament” is taken from a period in English law when Old English and Law French were used side by side for maximum clarity.
Will writing today
Although the principals contained in a last Will and Testament have not changed, modern Will writing takes into account various legislative changes that have become enshrined in law over time.
Legal compliance is a critical part of Will writing, and even the smallest omission can have painful repercussions.
The methods available to prepare a Will have also changed.
Historically the domain solely of legal firms, people now have alternative options to using a Solicitor which may suit their circumstances.
DIY packs are readily available, and some services exist to create a Will online. Making a Will yourself could be useful if your requirements are basic, but professional advice helps if you have anything more than the simplest of needs.
Significant demand for an alternative to Solicitors over recent years has resulted in the growth of the independent Will writing market.
An independent specialist can offer a personal consultation in your home, and their detailed knowledge helps people take into account every eventuality.
Self-regulated organisations such as The Society of Will Writers exist to protect the public and ensure professionals in the field maintain exacting standards.
6 top reasons why people delay or ignore writing a Will
1 – Many people believe they do not need a Will
Many people mistakenly believe they don’t need a Will because
• they are single,
• they have no assets,
• they are married with children and believe everything Will automatically pass to their
• they are married without children and assume everything Will automatically
pass to their spouse.
If you believe you do not need a Will, it is worth taking the following information into account:
You may be single, but if you have assets, these could be distributed to the state if you have not made a Will.
You may have no assets, but what type of funeral do you want and who Will pay for it? Could the burden unexpectedly end up being passed to a relative?
Even if you are married, probate can be delayed by months or even years if you haven’t made a Will. Your spouse may be left to bear the stress and manage the implications of significant legal costs.
If you are married and have children, your estate may pass to your wife. However, what happens if your spouse remarries? Your children could subsequently lose everything through a process known as ‘sideways disinheritance’.
2 – Making a Will is costly and complicated
This opinion usually arises from an assumption that only Solicitors write Wills: there is a perception of heavily weighted documents packed with legal jargon.
In reality, making a legally compliant Will is a lot more straightforward than people think.
An accredited specialist Will writer can prepare a legally compliant document starting from as little as £150.
3 – People feel anxious talking about private matters
It is logical that discussing sensitive details can cause a little apprehension. After all, a Will that ensures your wishes get carried out swiftly is dependent on the level of detail you provide.
Not all Will writers are stuffy and formal. Checking testimonials can help identify a sympathetic expert with your best interests at the heart of their service. And never be afraid to pick up the phone to make an enquiry.
Remember, the primary benefit of writing a Will is the sense of relief that occurs when you formulate your wishes. After all, you have worked hard to accumulate money, property and possessions, and it is only right that you have a say in what happens when you die.
4 – I do not have enough money to justify writing a Will
If you are not cash-rich or own property, it is easy to think you have nothing of value to pass on.
However, everyone has something that could be useful to someone else.
Perhaps your grandmother’s wedding ring or grandfather’s watch could be passed on to a niece or nephew.
Specific friends might value a record collection; or an exciting book that is no longer in circulation.
An old car could give someone you know their independence; or furniture donated to a charity shop could give someone on low income the chance to buy something they desperately need.
Also, if you own a pet, who can you trust to look after it after you die?
5 – They do not feel ready
Many people believe a Will is something you put off until later in life. Perhaps when old age starts to take effect or when someone becomes seriously ill.
However, death in early adulthood or middle age is surprisingly common: according to the Office of National Statistics, 27,272 men and 17,023 women aged between 21 and 55-years of age died in the UK during 2017.
If you and your spouse die at an early age when your children are under 18-years old, they could be put into state care unless guardianship is included as a provision in your Will.
6 – They have not considered the consequences of not writing a Will
Dying without a Will in place can have severe and far-reaching consequences. Assets can be frozen or lost to the state, and children can become disinherited if the surviving partner remarries.
Administering your estate becomes intense and complicated: probate takes longer and can cost thousands of pounds in legal fees to move through the court.
All of this and more happens at a time when your loved ones are coping with bereavement.
The role of probate
When you apply for the legal right to deal with someone’s estate (property, money, possessions) when they die, the process is known as probate.
If the deceased has a Will and names you ‘executor’, you can apply to the Probate Court for a ‘Grant of Probate’. Distributing an estate through probate can take up to 6-months when a Will is in place.
If a person dies without making a Will, the process is the same as applying for probate, and you Will receive ‘letters of administration’ to prove you have the legal right to deal with the estate. However, the process often takes much longer — sometimes up to 2-years.
When should I get advice?
There is a lot to be gained from taking advice as soon as possible.
Even if you do not think you need a Will, talking to a professional could highlight critical issues you have not considered, or do not believe are important.
Brighton Wills & Family Trusts offer a FREE no-obligation consultation in the comfort of your own home.
We can help you understand how to protect your legacy, and provide tailored advice based on your circumstances.
Like to learn more?
You can find detailed information and a useful glossary of essential terms in our Will writing guide. Learn more about the Will writing process and the risks associated with not having a Will in place.
Download your FREE guide to making a Will.
About the author
Jane Amos is an experienced member of The Society of Will Writers. Over the past four years, she has helped many families enjoy the confidence their affairs are in order and feel safe in the knowledge their wishes will be carried out explicitly in the event of an untimely death.
Her expertise extends to personalised Will writing, property trusts, lasting powers of attorney and probate.