Making a will is a vital part of your inheritance planning, helping to ensure that your assets will be passed on to the right people. If you die without making a will ('intestate'), the way your assets are shared out is governed by set intestacy rules - which may not reflect what you would have wanted.
Inheritance planning and making a will can also make it easier for your family and friends to sort out your financial affairs after you die. Dying without making a will can only increase their stress and emotional upset at what is already a difficult time.
Inheritance planning is something everyone needs to think about, regardless of how wealthy or healthy you are. Many people think inheritance planning is only necessary if your assets are likely to be worth more than the inheritance tax threshold. While that may make planning even more important, no matter how much money you have, inheritance planning - and making a will - is vital to avoid the intestacy rules applying.
Obviously your inheritance planning should include deciding who you would like to inherit after your death. You'll want to think about any specific bequests you'd like to make (passing on treasured possessions), whether you want to leave any small gifts to individuals or charities, and who you would like to inherit the rest.
You should also think about who you would like to be your executor(s), dealing with the finances and passing on inheritances after your death. You may feel that someone in your family would be suitable, or you may prefer to ask a professional to act for you.
The intestacy rules
The intestacy rules set out what happens if someone dies without making a will. Assets are shared out among your closest relatives (starting with your spouse or civil partner) according to fixed rules. The intestacy rules do not take account of your personal wishes or relationships with different family members.
The intestacy rules can have disastrous effects if you live with someone without being married or in a registered civil partnership. In these circumstances, your partner has no automatic entitlement to receive any inheritance.
Making a will
Making a will is essential to put your inheritance planning into effect. You must prepare a proper will. Expressing your wishes in any other way (for example, by telling your family or writing an unofficial document) has no effect - the intestacy rules will still apply.
In simple cases, making a will is possible without legal advice. But bear in mind that any mistakes could have serious consequences, at worst making the will completely invalid. If you expect your estate to be worth more than the inheritance tax threshold, legal advice can be essential to help minimise any tax payable.
Making a will is also a good opportunity to think about other plans. For example, you might want to let your family know what kind of a funeral you would like, or make arrangements to pay for it. You may also want to draw up a lasting power of attorney at the same time as making a will, in case you later become incapable of looking after your own finances, health or welfare.
Finally, it's worth remembering to review your will from time to time. Part or all of a will can become invalid (for example, if you get married) and your wishes and circumstances may change over time.