Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about some of the most important financial concerns of being a parent. I’ll start with one of the simplest (and maybe even the cheapest) to organise: your will.
It’s amazing how few people have a will – some statistics I’ve read say that less than half of parents have a will. I have to admit that I only arranged ours recently, 2 years after the birth of our first!
The most basic definition of a will is a written document which sets out what you want to happen to your possession when you die. It also covers what you want to happen to any dependants, i.e. your children.
I think most people avoid making a will because it’s tough to think about your death in such a cold and practical way. Selecting a guardian who will look after the children if you’re gone can be one of the hardest decisions to make. Of course no one can look after your kids like you can but what if you had to choose? In our house this led to a lot of debate!
Why make a will?
1. To protect your kids and your partner
If you and your partner have children under 18, and both of you die without a will, the court will decide who raises your children. The state courts and social services department usually choose the closest living relative, who may not be the person you would have chosen. There’s no guarantee who they will choose – it may even be a non-relative, someone the children don’t know!
2. To ensure your possessions are passed on the way you want – if you don’t have a will, the law can decide what happens!
The law has fairly rigid instructions on what happens your possessions – don’t assume that everything will pass to your spouse. This is particularly true if you aren’t married – the court mightn’t recognise their claim to an inheritance no matter how long you are together. The best way to ensure your children and partner are looked after the way you want is to write it out in a will!
3. To prevent conflict in your family.
Without your specific instructions, decisions about what happens with your assets or your possessions can lead to great conflict within your family. I’ve seen cases where siblings have fallen out and not spoken in over 30 years because when their parents died there was no will! Deciding what to do with the family home is always a flash point for conflict as there can be huge emotional attachment to the places we grow up.
4. You’re worth more than you think!
Ok so house prices have fallen, pensions are down and we’re all less well off than a few years ago but when you sit down and write it all out, you may be leaving more than you think!
If you have a mortgage, you most likely have life assurance which will clear it if you die – even if the value is down, the property is still probably worth a significant amount. A lot of people bought investment properties over the last 10 years, how much is this worth? Have you any other life assurance which will pay out? What about pensions or savings accounts? Family heirlooms and jewellery? Try writing a list and you’ll see it adds up quite quickly. You might need to talk to a tax advisor as inheritance tax can have a big effect on your estate. I’ve come across plenty of cases where people have been forced to take out a new mortgage to clear a tax bill!
There’s plenty of information available on Wills and how to make one – the Citizens Information site has a very clear guide. You’ll need to talk to your solicitor to make sure your will is done in the best way for your personal circumstances and ensure everything is in order.
So what’s stopping you? I urge you to make a will if not today, try this week or this month – your family will thank you for it!
Money Mark can be contacted directly on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the above post or any other personal finance issues. Mark Hopkins is a Qualified Financial Adviser and his company Mortgage Pension Investment Services (www.mpis.ie) is regulated by the Financial Regulator.