THERE is an age-old adage that there are only two things you can be sure of in life: death and taxes.
Therefore, it is an unfortunate fact of modern living that the majority of adults do not have a will.
Begins a spokesperson: “Certainly, the stresses, strains and potential risk that can arise from a failure to effectively outline the disposal of an estate is a theme that has featured heavily in one of Britain’s best-loved TV dramas, Downton Abbey, in recent weeks.
“The primetime TV series has featured a storyline where one of the main characters, solicitor Matthew Crawley, dies in a car crash without leaving a will.
“Only through the discovery of a ‘letter of intent’ is his wife, Lady Mary, able to secure his estate; this in itself has proved controversial, with legal experts up and down the country expressing varying opinions over whether Mathew’s letter was a legally binding expression of his wishes.
“However, despite this controversy, what is clear is that a lot of unnecessary anxiety and social conflict could have been avoided if Mathew had eschewed a letter of intent and, instead, opted for a more formal will.”
Gregor Mitchell, a partner at leading North-east law firm, Stronachs, said: “A fundamental purpose of a will is to ensure that your estate passes to those who you want it to; indeed, this does not necessarily have to be a person and many people opt to donate proportions or all of their estate to charity.
“Moreover, what is perhaps lesser known is that wills can also operate as an effective tax planning tool. Decisions, particularly those relating to charitable donations, can be taken to minimise the impact of any inheritance tax that an estate may be exposed to.
“Wills can serve many functions and it is important that people are given appropriate advice by experienced professionals. Certainly, Stronachs complete hundreds of wills every single year and we are specialists in every aspect of effective will composition.”
Nowadays, unlike in the 1920s, where assets such as bank accounts and homes are jointly owned, they automatically transfer to the surviving owner in the event of a death.
However, in an era where increasing numbers of couples share the use of assets without joint ownership, complications can arise.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for people to re-marry and have children across different relationships, so the division of an estate can be a particularly complex process in the absence of a will.
Gregor said: “In these instances, the absence of a clearly written will means that the destination of an estate can be challenged; beneficiaries will be open to potential challenge, and the interpretation of wishes can be called into question.
“However, a will is a simple yet effective way to protect your loved ones in the event of death and can make it crystal clear how you wish your estate to be divided up.
“Regrettably, those who do not take steps to create a will are risking the financial security of the very people they hope to safeguard.”
The process of composing a will is relatively straightforward and it is possible to pick up pre-printed forms or even complete an online will; however, this is not a process that Gregor would advise.
He said: “My advice would be to contact a specialist. These are experts who work with issues regarding the distribution of estates every day and they are perfectly placed to identify any potential pitfalls that may arise and take steps to prevent them.
“This is an invaluable service that cannot be provided by simply filling in an online form, and experienced professionals pride themselves on the attention to detail which they pay to their clients.
“Again, Stronachs completes hundred of wills for its clients every year and this vast experience allows us to channel our expertise and ensure that clients wishes are carried out to the letter when they die.
“This peace of mind can be invaluable, especially for those who may have other matters to take care of, or are battling serious illness.”
The spokesperson added: “In Downton Abbey, Lady Mary eventually managed to secure Matthew’s estate; however, if the solicitor had outlined his intentions in a formal will, his wife would not have been exposed to the risks that she was.
“And, in an age where relationships, marriages and families are arguably less stable, it makes more sense than ever to take steps to ensure that your estate passes down to exactly those who you would like it to.
“Indeed, there are steps that you can take to ensure that death and taxes are not all you can be certain of in this life, and preparing a will is one of them.”
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Contact: Craig Hamilton