Where there's no will
Despite the greater focus on later life planning amongst the UK’s ageing and wealthy population, Kings Court Trust research shows that more than half of adults are still without a Will.
For many people, making a Will comes right at the end of the ‘to do’ list. Understandably enough, whilst very important, it hardly feels like the most urgent of tasks.
Recent research shows that the most common reason UK adults give for not making a Will is that they were putting it off until they were older.1 Beyond that, the most frequent explanations were that they didn’t think they would have enough left in their estate to merit drawing one up, or that it had never occurred to them. More than one in ten simply assumed their estate would automatically go to the right person when they died.
As a result, 61% of adults in the UK are without a Will.2 “It’s a startling figure, particularly when you consider that our ageing and wealthy population is arguably more focused on later life planning than ever before,” says a recent report published by Kings Court Trust. “Why are so many people prepared to think about their pension, investments and life after work, but not about the legacy they want to leave for their loved ones?”
Yet there are many good reasons to decide and formally document how it is that that your assets will be divided on your death. Regrettably, some people are only compelled to write a Will after they have gone through the financial and emotional problems created by their spouse dying intestate.
In fact, you should make a Will as early as possible; and review it whenever you experience a significant change in circumstance; including the birth of a child, a job change, marriage or divorce, a medical diagnosis, or the receipt of an inheritance. Moreover, as a recent report by Kings Court Trust warns, some of these events actually invalidate an existing Will.
Reducing the impact of Inheritance Tax (IHT) is a key reason for writing a Will. The reality is that you do not need to be exceptionally wealthy to be hit by IHT, due in large part to some of the major UK demographic and financial trends of recent decades: an increasing proportion of national private wealth is held by older generations due to rapidly rising house prices and increasing lifespans.3 Additionally, the IHT nil-rate band has failed to rise in line with asset price inflation over the long term – indeed, it has been frozen since 2009.4
One important result of these trends has been a rapid rise in the number of inheritance disputes that end up in court. According to Kings Court Trust, the number of inheritance disputes brought to the High Court in 2005 was just 15, whereas by 2015 that number had risen to 116.5 Yet even that figure ignores the many cases settled out of court or in a county court.
These cases are often the result of, or exacerbated by, a person dying intestate: the rules of intestacy take no account of personal circumstances, and of whom you might want to benefit, such as a former partner or a care-giver; such intentions have to be stipulated in a Will. It is estimated that six million people in the UK cohabit – the fastest-growing family arrangement in the UK. Such partners will not inherit automatically if you don’t state so in your Will.6
New Year resolution?
Some of these facts are well-known, others are not; but the issues are ignored by the majority of the adult population. Indeed, even among the over-55s, the group for whom a Will is most urgent, nearly a third don’t have one.7
Inaction is understandable, particularly when some nuances of IHT can be difficult to navigate. The difficulties of dividing up your assets fairly among your potential beneficiaries can also give some people pause. However, failing to draw up a valid Will can end up costly or divisive; in extreme circumstances, it can even end up with a court case.
Yet making a Will should be a positive process, whereby the worst outcomes are prevented and your assets end up in the right hands. With the appropriate advice, and due care, you can ensure that all the right plans are in place for the future. Whatever the reason for putting off writing a Will, it is a mistake to delay.
The levels and bases of taxation, and reliefs from taxation, can change at any time and are dependent on individual circumstances.
Wills are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Will writing involves the referral to a service which is separate and distinct to those offered by St. James's Place.
1,2,5-7 Kings Court Trust, A changing landscape 2017, accessed 7 March 2018
3 Wealth in Great Britain Wave 4, ONS, accessed 8 March 2018
4 HMRC, Inheritance Tax Threshold Guidelines, accessed 8 March 2018