Written by Shelley Silas

Misc

Will you, won’t you? You really should

No one wants to make a will, but everyone should find the willpower, and do it. Shelley Silas, who has had too much experience in this area, shares what she’s learned.

Last Will & TestamentUntil my uncle died, the word probate meant very little to me. My sister and I were his executors, but given that she had cancer at the time, I dealt with probate on my own.

My uncle’s will was simple: he didn’t own anything, and the amount was under the inheritance tax (IHT) threshold and therefore trouble free.

His will was written on a piece of paper. But there was much to learn, forms to fill in, appointments to make and grief to bear.

When my sister Leah died, the word probate meant a little more to me. As one of her executors I did her probate practically singlehanded – my choice. It was easier, and my cousin, the second executor, was on hand at the various stages, supporting me and making sure the figures added up. It took up six months of my life. Six months of grief and paperwork. If my uncle and sister hadn’t left wills, it would have taken a lot longer.

I’m grateful my sister made a will. She knew she was sick; everything had been prepared. Documents were easy to locate and as painful and intrusive as it was, it had to be done. There was a house, money, trusts to set up for the two sons who were under 25, my elderly, heartbroken parents and a lot of grief to deal with. Mum had lost her brother and daughter within a year of each other. Three years later my dad died.

“People become strange and antagonistic when someone dies and money is involved; emotions are all over the place; rationality goes for a walk.”

When bad things happen I go into coping mode. I cry when I need to, but looking after and dealing with things comes naturally to me. With my uncle’s death, there were forms, but with my sister there was so much more.

Pensions, bank accounts, credit cards to cancel, bills to settle and that was just the beginning. I sought advice from legal and financial experts only when absolutely necessary because I wanted to save the children the possibility of a large bill.

And I wanted to be the one looking after my sister’s affairs, not a stranger, who would not cry whenever they had to give her name, date of birth and date of death every time a call was made in relation to probate. A stranger would not sit on the floor for hours in tears, or wonder when is the right time to delete a dead person’s details from a phone. A stranger would not hold her driving licence and reminisce about sharing a car when we were younger and stare at her passport photo in disbelief.

When my dad died, though probate was easier than my sister’s because my mum was still alive, I still had to fill in forms, have property valued, cancel credit cards, change everything over to my mum’s sole name. Name. Date of birth. Date of death.

Both of my parents had given my sister and me instructions about what to do when they died. I didn’t want to hear it and had relied on my sister to remember it all. Then she died first. It’s hard enough dealing with waves of sadness – the unpredictability of grief becomes a constant companion – let alone ensuring the dead person’s wishes are granted.

If you have a will, everything should be ‘straightforward’ because you have definite instructions to follow. It takes time, but ample online help is available, assistance is on hand and people are generally compassionate.

When someone dies, no matter what the value of their estate (unless the amount is very little and banks/building societies do not require a document), you have to apply for a grant of probate, the document that allows ownership of the assets to be transferred from the deceased to the executors, so that they can meet the terms of the will.

will

Until then, you cannot settle the estate. Until then everything is frozen. Joint accounts are generally not affected. If there’s inheritance tax to pay, it has to be paid by the end of the sixth month after a person dies, otherwise interest is charged and you have up to 10 years to settle the account. Different rules apply for trusts.

If you don’t have a will, the law decides who will inherit the estate and this is why it can take longer. The law doesn’t move at the same speed the rest of us do. Someone (usually next of kin) has to apply for a grant of administration – the letter that gives you legal access to the deceased’s affairs.

Family battles can ensue over finances. People become strange and antagonistic when someone dies and money is involved; emotions are all over the place; rationality goes for a walk. Where children are concerned it is vital a will is made, so that should anything happen to both parents, a trust is in place and guardians the parents have chosen will be appointed as opposed to those the law would appoint.

In my opinion, anyone who has children and hasn’t made a will is acting irresponsibly. If you think it will all miraculously settle itself, you are mistaken. And not caring because you won’t be here is a weak excuse not to leave your affairs in order.

“Both of my parents had given my sister and me instructions about what to do when they died. I didn’t want to hear it and had relied on my sister to remember it all. Then she died first.”

I understand people don’t want to think about death and all that comes with it, but it’s going to happen. Sadly some of us have either experienced too many family and friends’ deaths, or had partners who have been sick, and have been forced to think about premature dying and the need to create order to ensure our wishes are granted.

Once the will is made, you have peace of mind. You can change it, add to it, because circumstances alter; life is as unpredictable as death, which itself can come fast, furiously and without any warning.

It may sound morbid, but I find it calming, to know who we are leaving our estate to, the various charities we have cited and beneficiaries we have chosen, together, after much discussion, tears and thought – not scribbled on a piece of paper in a bar and signed by unknown witnesses. Although a simple piece of paper with all the relevant information would be better than nothing.

Do it. Make that will. Ensure your loved ones are safe. Find a solicitor, or a company specialising in wills. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Not leaving a will leaves a great big mess. Your children could be left to people you really don’t want to be their guardians. If the law decides to share your estate, it may go to people you would never leave a penny and those charities you care about but failed to name will get nothing. Is that what you really want? Someone else to take control of everything you have worked for, when all you have to do is make a will?

@shelleysilas

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Written by Shelley Silas

Shelley writes for radio, theatre and TV and is developing everything she possibly can for radio, theatre and TV. She is a cold-water swimmer (no wetsuit), plays the ukulele (doesn’t everybody?) and loves technology (iWatch anyone?).