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Why Use an Estate Planning Lawyer to Make a Will?


Some people don’t need to worry about making a will, such as young adults with no children or assets, just yet; however, a large proportion of people in the UK not only need to make a will but also need to consider estate planning lawyer if they have a number of valuable assets. 

Whether your estate is reasonably straightforward or more complex, such as an extensive property portfolio of assets in foreign countries, using an estate planning lawyer enables you to incorporate several aspects pertaining to your estate under one roof.

What is estate planning?

There are several aspects to estate planning, including making a will, which incorporates every aspect of planning who gets what, where, and when upon your death, as well as who makes decisions on your behalf, if required during your lifetime. Let’s look at the different aspects of estate planning:

  • Making a will – a will is a legal document that lists all your assets and their relative value, states your beneficiaries and what you have decided they will receive upon your death.
  • Powers of Attorney (POA) – a POA gives permission to a person of your choice to make certain decisions on your behalf should you be in the position of losing your mental capacity to make the decisions yourself or will be out of the country for a long period of time, or you are seriously ill for any reason. However, there are three forms of POA:
  • A continuing power of attorney gives permission regarding your property assets and financial matters.
  • A welfare power of attorney is only used when you do not have the mental capacity to make decisions on your medical care or about the treatment you receive, and even about where you live.
  • A combined power of attorney brings together the above two POAs so the person of your choice can make decisions about your financial matters as well as about welfare and health.
  • Planning business succession – if you run a business, an estate planning lawyer will help you plan the running of the business when you want to retire or upon your death, including:
    • Who takes over the business’s operations?
    • Where do the business’s profits go, i.e. equally to beneficiaries or reinvested back into the business?
    • Does your death impact a partnership agreement?
    • If you’ve appointed an executor, are they experienced in selling a business?
  • Trusts – a trust is a method to manage your finances and assets for your beneficiaries, and they can help reduce the impact of inheritance tax and capital gains tax.

What’s included in your will?

There are four forms of wills – simple, joint, living, and testamentary trust – which one you choose largely depends on your circumstances and your estate. Whilst there are also handwritten wills and oral wills, known as ‘nuncupative’ wills, let’s look at the four main types.

  • Simple will – the most common, a simple will is the choice of many people. It details your assets, who will receive them, names guardians for your children under the age of sixteen. A simple will often forms the basis of other wills.
  • Joint will – also known as mirror wills, they are signed by more than one person but culminate in separate wills for each testator. They are usually made by spouses where the executor, beneficiaries and other matters are the same. The drawback of joint wills is that should the surviving spouse’s wishes change, they can’t change the joint will.
  • Living will – this type of will isn’t to do with distributing your estate on your death but is to do with your wishes should you become incapacitated. Similar to POAs, you can specify who will make decisions on your behalf and what your wishes are should something happen to you.
  • Testamentary trust – this type of will puts certain assets into a trust, such as property, for your beneficiaries to benefit at a later date, i.e. minor children. You will need to name the trust’s trustees – the people who will manage the trust – in the testamentary trust will.

Before you carry out any estate planning or make a will, you will need to take an inventory of your assets. An estate planning lawyer will be able to help you with this task and review your assets to work out the most tax-efficient way in which to pass on your assets to your beneficiaries.

Your will needs to include:

  • Physical property, such as buildings and land.
  • Intangible property, such as stocks and shares, bonds, patents and copyrights, intellectual property and businesses owned, or any interest in a business that you have – you will need to specify who will take over your part of the business.
  • Unproductive property of value, such as jewellery, artwork, cars and furniture.
  • Cash, including money in your bank accounts and savings accounts. Don’t forget that your spouse and family will require cash to pay any outstanding debts as well as taxes upon your death.

However, there are some things that shouldn’t be included in your will, such as:

  • Property that is held as a joint tenancy, i.e. a property that is jointly owned with someone else. The reason is that the property will transfer for the other joint owner automatically.
  • Any insurance policies, trusts or other retirement plans that already state a beneficiary. However, it is possible to change your beneficiary, or beneficiaries, on any of these, as well as pensions and life assurance policies.
  • Any stocks, shares or bonds that are already set up to transfer to someone else upon your death.
  • Digital assets are also not included in wills, at the moment, so cryptocurrencies may be a difficult asset to place in a will. However, an estate planning lawyer will be able to advise you accordingly.

The more concise and accurate your estate planning and will be, the smoother the transition for your family and beneficiaries.

At Probates Online, we offer a professional probate service online that is efficient and affordable. If you are an Executor of a will or close relative of a deceased person, and you need to apply for a Grant of Probate or would like to take advantage of our entire Estate Administration service, visit our website for more information or contact us today.

Reasons for Making a Will and How to Pick the Right Adviser

Reasons to make a will

According to research from Canada Life, 59% of people don’t have a will. That’s potentially 31 million people who may die ‘intestate’, i.e. without a will, and whose assets, financial, property and other, may be inherited by someone not of their choice.

It’s a fair conclusion that most people believe that even if they don’t have a will in place, all their assets and possessions will pass to their spouse or civil partner if they die. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The only time all your assets pass to your spouse/civil partner is if you have no children and there are no other living relatives. In most cases, that isn’t the situation.

Another misconception is that because you’ve been living together for years and are common law partners, the same rules apply as if you were married. Again, that’s not true. In England and Wales, the state or common law partner is not recognised in the legal sense and therefore your partner will not receive any of your estate if you die without a will. These are just two reasons to make a will. So, why should you make a will?

What is a will?

First, let’s just clarify; a will is a legally binding document that sets out how you want your estate distributed upon your death. Also known as a last will and testament, it will include your beneficiaries and the possessions/assets you bequeath to them, who will bring up your children and who will look after your pets, if applicable, the details of any trusts and can also include your funeral arrangements. If you have an uncomplicated estate, you can write your own will, although that is not recommended, but if you have a complex estate, always seek the help of a qualified solicitor or professional will-writer.

Reasons to make a will

● Decide who looks after your children – if you are a single parent and were to die before your children had reached the age of 18, who would look after your children if you died? Instead of the court choosing who has the role, you can specify in your will who is going to be their guardian (do ask them before you add this clause to your will and make sure they are happy to take on the role). This not only ensures who you want to raise your children, it also stops someone you don’t approve of taking control.

● Sets out who benefits from your estate – as your will is a legally-binding document, how you decide who benefits from your estate is down to you. Whether your estate is minimal, i.e. doesn’t include any property, there will still be family heirlooms you wish certain people to have when you die. Of course, if your estate is large and complex, it becomes an even more important reason to make a will. Your will also makes sure that should you and your partner not be married, you are able to protect them and the family home by leaving them a share of the property or set out a right to reside in the property for them.

● The option to disinherit – your will defines who gets what and allows you to leave someone out of your will, if that’s your wish. Without a will, someone may inherit part of your estate which may be against your wishes. For example, if you have remarried, you may not wish your ex-spouse/civil partner to inherit any of your estate.

● Make a gift or a donation to a charity – you may decide that you wish to make a gift/donation to your favourite charity upon your death. Not only does this benefit the charity, there is the potential that your family will pay less inheritance tax, particularly if the donation is over 10% of the value of your estate.

● Ensure your family/children are provided for in the future – as well as making sure the right person raises your children (if applicable), you may also want to ensure their financial security, such as paying school fees, setting up a trust from which they receive a regular income or a deposit on their first home. A trust is a beneficial way of providing for your children once you’ve gone. You can either set it up before your death or leave instructions for a trust to be established after you die. Either way, a will makes sure your wishes are honoured. One essential point to note here is that if you do not have a will, only blood relatives will automatically inherit from your estate. If you have remarried and have stepchildren, foster children or adopted children, or any other dependents, there is every likelihood they will not benefit from your estate should you die unless you have a will in place.

● Avoids paying too much inheritance tax – whatever you do, your family will have to pay inheritance tax on your passing. However, you can reduce the tax burden by making a will. What you leave to your spouse/civil partner is automatically exempt and any property you leave your children/grandchildren may well be subject to less tax. Trusts are another area where less tax may have to be paid.

● Avoids disputes – without a will, deciding who gets what from your estate could get messy. Avoiding any family disputes, arguments or disagreements is a good reason to make a will. You can make your wishes clear and smooth the probate process, too.

Finding the right adviser

Whilst there are facilities available for writing your own will, you run the risk that its validity could be challenged. You may also miss out on certain aspects of your estate, which could cause probate problems. Therefore, it is always recommended you get professional advice from a solicitor or will-writer to help you write your will and ensure it is legal.

You may choose a solicitor who specialises in writing wills and probate; whilst this may be the more expensive option, they are highly experienced and will be able to make sure you have included every aspect of your estate, even things that you hadn’t thought of, such as any cash you may have in the bank.

There are also professional will writers but not all are legally qualified solicitors, lawyers or chartered legal executives, and therefore not necessarily regulated. Always check their credentials and qualifications carefully and make sure they are a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) which is the professional body that regulates the will writing profession.

Banks and charities also offer will writing services, which often come under the title of estate planning but as with professional will writers, do your due diligence. Recently, there has been a rise in online will writers, driven predominantly by the coronavirus pandemic. Their fees are likely to be lower than solicitors or even professional will writers and they are not allowed to be executors of your will.

At Probates Online, we are able to offer a professional probate service online that is efficient and affordable. If you are an Executor of a will and need to apply for a Grant of Probate or would like to take advantage of our entire Estate Administration service, visit our website for more information or contact us today.

Do I Need to Use Probate Solicitors or Can I Use Probate Experts Online?

Probate Solicitors

When someone dies, generally the executors or administrator of the deceased’s estate will need to apply for grant of probate in order to administer the estate.  Probate, however, is not always required if there is a living spouse or civil partner or the value of the estate is below a certain level.  But, in most cases, probate will be needed.  The question is, do you need to use specialist probate solicitors or can you use online probate solicitors?

Why probate?

In some cases, probate is required, sometimes it is not and in other cases, grant of letters of administration will be needed instead of probate.

Generally, if the value of the estate is in excess of £5,000, probate is required. 

When there is a will, the executor(s) appointed to administer the estate will apply for grant of probate.  The executor(s) can be a family member, a friend of the deceased or a solicitor.  However, if there is no will or the executor(s) resign from the role, the deceased’s next of kin or a close relative will need to apply for grant of letters of administration to administer the deceased’s estate, known as the administrator. 

Other circumstances where grant of letters of administration is required:

  • A beneficiary has been left the entire estate;
  • No executors have been named in the will;
  • The named executors are not prepared to accept the role and resign.

If the majority of the deceased’s assets are jointly owned with a spouse or civil partner, such as joint bank accounts or a joint mortgage, probate may not be required.  Cases where probate is not required include:

  • The estate is less than £10,000 in value and there are no shares or land within the estate.  If the estate is small, the bank or financial institution has the discretion to decide whether they need to see Grant of Probate in order to release the funds.
  • If any financial assets or property are owned jointly with a spouse or civil partner.

The probate threshold ranges from £5,000 to £50,000.  Banks and financial institutions have their own procedures regarding a deceased person’s assets; contact them as soon as possible.

When there is a will, an executor(s) will have been appointed to administer the estate and apply for grant of probate.  If there is no will or executor(s), the deceased’s next of kin or a relative will need to apply letters of administration to administer the deceased’s estate.   

Other circumstances when letters of administration are needed include:

  • You have been left the entire estate;
  • There are no executors named in the will;
  • The executors are not prepared to accept the role.

Benefits of using probate solicitors

Whilst it is possible to handle probate of a deceased’s estate yourself via online probate services, sometimes the legal terminology and probate service can be complex and confusing if you don’t have a legal background. 

If the deceased’s estate is fairly simple and they left a detailed will setting out their wishes, as well as how the estate was to be distributed, then handling the probate process online should be pain-free.  However, if the deceased’s estate large and complex, or other factors that may make the probate process complicated, using a probate solicitor may be the best option.

Situations where probate cases are more complex and it is probably better to enlist the services of a probate solicitor include:

  • If there is a dispute about the will or questions on whether it is valid;
  • Where a beneficiary that may have been left out of a will deliberately by the deceased and they want to make a claim;
  • Where assets may be held in a trust or the will states that a trust must be created;
  • Where the estate is insolvent or bankrupt;
  • The deceased either lived abroad or died abroad; and
  • The estate includes property or assets that are foreign to the UK.

In these situations, a specialist probate solicitor will have the knowledge and expertise to be able to advise and administer the deceased’s estate.  In addition, by using a probate solicitor you will pay a reduced probate application fee, which currently stands at £155.

Benefits of using online probate solicitors

Using online probate solicitors does not mean you are not getting professional advice and service.  You will still be talking to a legal professional that specialises in probate.  The essential differences between an online service and a physical service are:

  • Generally, the solicitor’s fees will be cheaper as there are fewer overheads for them to cover, making the use of their services far more affordable.
  • They are more readily available 24/7 as your queries are presented online to a pool of online probate solicitors.
  • There is no requirement for face-to-face meetings – all communication is carried out via email and/or telephone.

Online probate solicitors are registered in the same way as non-online solicitors and have to abide by the same rules.  They are more than capable of handling uncontentious wills and subsequent probate applications.  However, you may find that when it comes to complex probate cases or estates where the deceased did not have a will, an online probate solicitor service may not be able to help you as effectively. 

Now that it is mandatory for all probate applications to be submitted online, whether a solicitor is applying for grant of probate or the executor(s)/administrator, it is not always necessary to go through non-online solicitors.  However, with that said, if the deceased’s estate is large and complex, or any of the above situations apply, a non-online probate solicitor may be in a better position to administer the estate and deal with the complex issues on your behalf. 

At Probates Online, we are able to offer a professional probate service online that is efficient and affordable.  If you are an executor of a will and need to apply for Grant of Probate or would like to take advantage of our entire Estate Administration service, visit our website for more information or contact us today.