IT’S NATURAL to avoid talking about death but being prepared by making a will gives control, certainty and is surprisingly cost effective.

People often do not think they need a will or that there is not enough in their estate to justify making one. They may even believe their circumstances are too complicated to sort out, yet nothing could be further from the truth, according to Angela McCulloch of law firm Brodies.

“There is a misconception that everything will pass automatically to a spouse or partner, for example, but current succession rules do not always achieve what is intended,” she said.  “If you are single or divorced and want everything to go to your children that’s what will happen but if you want a spouse or partner to inherit, you need a will to ensure that will happen.”

HeraldScotland:

With regards to the family home, the surviving spouse will be entitled to a house worth up to £473,000, which in Scotland covers a significant proportion of houses.

However, that is in contrast to the cash rights where the spouse is entitled to the first £50,000.

If there are cash assets like investments, the spouse is entitled to only one third of anything above that sum, with any offspring entitled to the remaining two thirds.

If there are no children the spouse’s cash rate is higher at £89,000 but the remainder of the estate could be divided amongst surviving parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, right down the family line.

It is also important to remember that in Scotland children will receive any inheritance at the age of 16 unless the will provides otherwise.

“Quite often our clients choose to go for a slightly older age depending on the level of wealth and who will be the beneficiary,” said Mrs McCulloch. “Most people think 16 is too young.”

If people are in their second or third marriage they sometimes have the misconception that it will be too costly and complicated to make a will but such circumstances are fairly common nowadays and lawyers are well versed in solutions that work to balance all the interests involved.

For couples who are unmarried, it is important to bear in mind that there are no automatic succession rights.

HeraldScotland:

It is possible to make an application to the courts after death but this can be costly and time consuming, creating uncertainty for the cohabitant at an already difficult time.

“It makes a huge difference to have a will in place,” said Mrs McCulloch. “It gives people control, as they can make appropriate provision for their loved ones without relying on existing statutory rules.

“We do find clients have better peace of mind after they make a will.

“They are relieved when this has been dealt with and sorted out.

“It also gives them the opportunity to ensure that appropriate provision is made to safeguard the interests of vulnerable beneficiaries such as someone who is disabled or financially naive.

“The other aspect is they now have certainty in terms of who is going to manage their estate and know that it is people they trust.”

Individuals who own businesses should think about succession planning and how the business might continue in the event of their death.

“Having a will in place makes sure their vision for that is implemented and the business can continue without them,” said Mrs McCulloch.

It is important, too, for people to make sure they have a tax efficient will in place. Inheritance tax can be complex but as a starting point, tax is charged at 40% on assets above the exempt amount (£325,000 per person with an extra amount of £150,000 per person if leaving your home to children, step children grandchildren etc).

Where a person owns a business or agricultural assets, reliefs can be available so the rate of tax is 0%.

With a tax efficient will, you can make the most of any reliefs.Even without a business or agricultural property to pass on, making a will can still save people money in the long term.

“Wills can be put in place quickly and easily and cost far less than people often think,” said Mrs McCulloch.

HeraldScotland:

“Whenever you are thinking about cost you need to compare it with the cost of not having a will. If you don’t have one, winding up an estate is more complicated and there are extra court processes involved, which can be expensive and time consuming and particularly difficult to deal with when people are grieving.”

The court processes involved include petitioning the court to appoint executors and obtaining an insurance policy to protect creditors and beneficiaries. There may also be inheritance tax issues if the estate is to be divided between the surviving spouse and children.

Matters can become even more complicated if there is ill will between potential beneficiaries. “If the family dynamic is settled and is not contentious, the estate can be sorted out by agreement, but in some cases where there are strained relationships it can end up in lengthy, contentious disputes which will significantly eat into what is left for the beneficiaries,” said Mrs McCulloch.

“Having a will in place ensures peace of mind for both you and your loved ones.”

For more information please visit www.brodies.com