MANY PEOPLE CHOOSE TO DIE WITHOUT MAKING A WILL (ie 'intestate'), believing that their immediate family will automatically inherit everything. This can lead to unforeseen complications. Some disadvantages of dying intestate are that you cannot make specific bequests or choose your executor or decide the proportions that your beneficiaries get. If you have minor children, their inheritances are held in the Guardian's Fund until they reach 21. If you have no immediate family, distant relatives will claim the inheritance rather than close friends or life partners.
START BY MAKING A LIST OF YOUR ASSETS AND LIABILITIES so that you have a general idea of how much you have available to leave to your heirs.. This also helps you to identify those items you wish to leave as bequests, which can take the form of sums of money or valuable items and can be left to specific persons, charities or fundraising organisations. Where you have minor. children or grandchildren, you should consider setting up a testamentary trust. This allows the trustees to manage the money on behalf of the minors until they are old enough to manage their financial affairs responsibly, and also provides for their tuition and maintenance costs.
YOU WILL NEED TO APPOINT AN EXECUTOR (or executors) to carry out the instructions contained in the will. An executor must be over 21 and can be a member of your family, a close friend or a professional person or body. The executor can even be someone inheriting under the will.
Other incidental matters may also be provided for in your will, such as the powers and functions of your Executor(s), inheritances for unborn children, burial arrangements and tombstone expenses. You may also wish to make provision for a 'usufruct'. A usufruct is a right given to a specific person for a specific period of time to use something which you have bequeathed to someone else. For example, you could leave your car to your child, but give your spouse the right to use that car until their death.
Once your will is ready for signature, you need to sign it in front of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries under the will, who are above the age of sixteen and who are able to sign their names. Your will should be kept in a safe place. It is advisable that you keep a copy for yourself and that your executor knows where the original is kept.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP YOUR WILL UP-TO-DATE in order to reflect any changes in your personal circumstances such as a death or birth in the family. Minor changes to a will may be made using a 'codicil' which does not cancel the previous will but merely updates particular provisions or clauses in your will.
While 'DIY' wills that are available from shops, they are simply not adequate and it is advisable to use an attorney to ensure that the will is worded correctly and that the formalities have been complied with - sometimes even the simplest error may prevent your wishes from being carried out. The costs involved in drafting a will are very reasonable and most attorneys will be able to give you an estimate of your costs at the outset.