Martin Lewis: It pays to put a Will in place

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We’re all going to die – accept it, plan for it, right now some wills are free.

We’re all going to die. It may sounds like a street preacher’s placard, but it’s also a fact, and one that in our financial lives we need to accept and plan for. Too few people do that though, and this can create nightmares for those left behind.

My aim is to be candid, blunt and unemotional. If you’re an adult, this time of year is perfect to get a will, as there are two big schemes. And even more than a will, for many, is a Power of Attorney.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

A will is a legal document that lets you set out what you want to happen to your finances and assets when you die. Without one your affairs can be in limbo for years.

This is especially important if you live with your partner but aren’t married or in a civil partnership. Many mistakenly think they’ve common law rights – but these don’t exist. If you die your partner may not get the house – even if you’ve been together 37 years and have six children.

Equally if you are married and have children from a previous marriage – your kids may miss out, as die will less and it’s the intestacy laws that dictate how your money is disbursed. They depend on where you are in the UK, use the tool at https://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will to see.

Making a will can be costly, but right now, there are schemes that can help.

October is Free Wills month. If you’re aged 55 or over (or in a couple one must be) then solicitors in over 40 locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will draft a will for you for free. Enter your postcode on the www.freewillsmonth.org.uk website and call to book an appointment with one of the participating solicitors. They get busy so do this ASAP. You don’t have to live in one of the areas to qualify, but you will be expected to travel to the solicitor’s office for your appointment.

As a charity-backed scheme, charities pay for the solicitors’ time so expect to be asked to consider leaving something to charity in your will. You don’t have to, but do if you can. A good starting point is to leave at least enough to cover the solicitors’ fees– typically £100 - £150. There’s a range of charities to choose from including British Heart Foundation, British Legion, Mencap, Guide Dogs and Diabetes UK.

November is Will Aid. This is a bigger scheme, right across the UK, open to any age. The website www.willaid.org.uk (or call 0300 0309 558) lets you chose a solicitor to call and book an appointment. Remember to say you’re calling as part of the Will Aid scheme.

Here though rather than leaving money when you die, they ask for a donation (not a bequest) to one of nine charities including Action Aid, NSPCC and the British Red Cross. The suggested donation is £95 (£150 for couples) – which is pretty cheap – and you can do it online before your appointment. Print out the receipt and take it with you to the solicitor. If you can’t afford it, you can give less (very rarely in past year’s I’ve heard solicitors object to this, if so, report them to Will Aid.)

There’s a range of other ways to write a will for less. For a full rundown of them and codes to cut the cost further see my guide at www.mse.me/freewills

Power of Attorney – more important than a will for many

I’m a passionate advocate of getting a Power of Attorney – and believe it’s possibly more important than a will. This is because when you die, the issue is dispersal of your money. Yet if you lose your faculties through, say, a stroke or dementia (1 in 3 people develop this), don’t assume relatives can walk into the bank and access your money – not even if it’s just to pay for your care.

A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) would allow them to do that, and while not perfect, they are far better than the alternative. You need to get one, now, while you have the mental capacity. You then nominate a trusted friend or relative to look after your affairs, this avoids difficult situations later down the line.

Don’t think it means you’re giving up control now. You can choose for it only to come into effect when you’re no longer capable. I’ve had one for years, and I’m 46.

If you don’t have an LPA in place and you lose your faculties, your family have to take charge of your affairs. They will need to apply to take over via the Court of Protection. This is a nightmare that can drag on for many months, with costs that can run into the £1,000s. I hear many horror stories like Norma who said: “My Mum is deputy (via the Court of Protection) to my Dad, who has advanced dementia. It’s a very long, drawn out and quite intrusive process. It’s also expensive. Mum will have to pay hefty yearly fees too. I just wish we’d managed to get Power of Attorney instead, when Dad was more capable. He got ill very fast and we couldn’t implement it.”

To get an LPA, if you’ve simple finances, you can set one up yourself by filling in the online form.

l In England & Wales it’s at www.gov.uk and costs £82

l In Scotland it is www.publicguardian-scotland.gov.uk and costs £77

l In Northern Ireland it’s www.nidirect.gov.uk and costs £127.

If you’ve more complex affairs get a solicitor to set one up for you properly, though it can cost over £500. There are some good halfway houses though and discount costs explained in my guide at www.mse.me/POA

You can also get a separate LPA specifically for health decisions, such as medical care and your daily care routine, should you be unable to make them for yourself.

Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to 
www.moneysavingexpert.com/latesttip.