Control and certainty

It’s difficult to say with absolute consistency what is the main motive for making a will. There are plenty of possible motives, and they will weigh differently with each individual. Some might suggest that a person has at least as many motives as they have loved ones they wish to care for.

But whatever the priority, the main reasons are:

  • control over what happens to your estate; and
  • certainty for the people left behind as to what is to happen to your estate.

Without a will that control is absent, and the deceased would be said to have died intestate. The law would then take over and dictate how the estate is to be administered. For more information on intestacy, please see our page Avoiding intestacy.

Control

In theory, a will is a legally binding document which gives you the ability to exercise complete control over your assets after your death.

As you might expect with anything legal, there are a few limitations and restrictions! For further guidance, please see Is a will legally binding?

In general, in your will you can:

  • stipulate what is to happen to your property after you have died;
  • state who will be responsible for administering your property – your executors;
  • give instructions as to your funeral;
  • minimise the tax liability of your estate; and
  • state who you wish to be responsible for looking after your children – the guardians.

With regard to property and assets, a will enables you to choose who will receive:

  • any particular possessions that you wish to go to a particular person – which can be especially important with items such as jewellery, heirlooms and so on;
  • cash and other assets;
  • any property – in the sense of land or buildings;
  • the residuary estate;
  • the benefit of the nil-rate entitlement.

A will also allows you to choose the proportions in which your estate will be divided. Where there is no will, the law uses the family relationships to decide who is to benefit; and where there is more than one person of equal closeness (such as two sisters), they would receive equal shares. A will lets you vary those shares.

And with regard to any of your property or assets, a will allows you to benefit people or organisations outside your family, who would otherwise not receive anything on intestacy.

This would be particularly important if you have a permanent cohabiting partner, but you have not married or entered into a civil partnership with them. But there are other categories of potential beneficiary too, for example:

  • friends;
  • carers; and
  • charities.

Certainty

As well as giving effect to your wishes, having a will brings a great advantage to the people left behind. Bereavement is difficult enough as it is. But knowing exactly how their loved one wanted to distribute their property can hugely reduce the stress of trying to deal with their grief at the same time as a finding their way through an unfamiliar and potentially complicated legal process.

Having a will to follow means the people who are bereaved:

  • understand who is going to be responsible for administering your estate; and
  • do not have to guess or speculate as to how your estate is to be distributed.

A will can go a long way to reassuring loved ones and avoiding conflict, and a smooth administration of the estate can help people cope at a difficult time.