If you fail to make a will, then when you die your estate is subject to government rules on who gets what. That could mean your bratty nephew inherits all of your assets instead of them going to the love of your life. So this is one of those tasks that is worth doing sooner rather than later.
But first, you need to figure out what you’re dealing with. Draw up a list of assets – everything from your savings and investments to cars, jewellery and art. If you have no idea what different elements are worth, get them valued.
Once you know what you have, decide who gets what. And be specific: are you going to hand out precise sums, or split your estate between a certain number of people? You also need to take into consideration eventualities such as a beneficiary dying before you do, and think about who should get their share.
At this stage, don’t forget to consider whether you want to leave anything to charity. Aside from being a kind thing to do, if your estate is likely to be liable for inheritance tax (IHT), then leaving 10% of it to charity cuts your IHT rate from 40% to 36%. (Just note that this is not the most straightforward of arrangements, so you might want to take advice on this stage of your estate planning.)
The next thing you need to do is choose your executors. Most people choose two or three – this can include family members, your solicitor or accountant. It can be a big job, with executors responsible for selling your assets, settling your debts and making sure tax bills get paid, so choose wisely.
When you are ready to write your will, you have a number of options. You could choose to write it yourself – you can do this online through sites such as FareWill, or you can pick up a will-writing pack on the high street. This is the cheapest option, but make sure you end up with a valid document, as it is easy to miss a vital step or to word a bequest in a way that doesn’t fully communicate your intentions.
Alternatively, you can use a professional will writer or a qualified solicitor. Although this could cost anywhere from £80 to several hundred pounds depending on the complexity of your wishes and whereabouts you live, this is the option most likely to leave you with a watertight legal document. Once you have a will, store it safely either at home or with a solicitor and make sure your executors know where to find it.
Why dying is dear
The price of a burial has increased by almost 20% over the past three years, while cremation fees have risen by just under 18% during that time, according to insurer Royal London. Yet over the same period the cost of living (inflation) has risen by just 8%, says Carol Lewis in The Times.
The average burial now costs £1,838, says funeral comparison website Beyond, while a cremation costs an average of £784. One factor contributing to the soaring costs has been a shortage of burial plots, notes Royal London. The Competition and Markets Authority is looking into the industry to ensure people are not getting a bad deal, and should report within six months.
One option to ease concerns about the cost of your funeral is to take out a pre-paid funeral plan. These allow you to pay for your funeral at today’s rates and choose how much is spent. However, these plans have also come in for criticism, as some don’t cover the total cost of a funeral, only giving an allowance towards certain costs. They are also not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, meaning you may lose your money if your company goes bust. The Treasury is currently investigating regulation in the industry.
Pocket money… contactless is killing cashpoints
• Three hundred cash machines are closing every month as we all turn to contactless payments, says Patrick Collinson in The Guardian. Almost 1,500 machines on the Link network shut down between November and April, and it is set to get worse. A planned cut in fees paid by banks for each withdrawal is already making it more difficult for independent operators to survive, especially in thinly populated areas, according to campaigners such as the Federation of Small Businesses.
A phased reduction in the fee paid by banks for each withdrawal began with a cut from 25p to 24p on Sunday, and will continue down to 20p. The cut may appear small, but independent operators, which run many of the machines in convenience stores in remote locations, have said it is likely to make many cash machines unprofitable.
• Hotel booking websites have been rebuked by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for breaking consumer protection laws. The CMA has identified widespread concerns about the ways some hotel booking sites operate, including misleading discount claims, pressure-selling and skewed search results and rankings, says Kate Hughes in The Independent. Firms are also being criticised for discount claims based on a higher price that was only available very briefly, or that isn’t relevant, such as a weekend rate when searching for a mid-week break.
• Some users of fund platform Cofunds are still struggling to access their accounts more than a month after insurer Aegon – which acquired Cofunds in 2016 – transferred 400,000 accounts from the old Cofunds system onto its newer software, says Harry Brennan in The Daily Telegraph. As many as 400 customers were unable to log in to their accounts after the transfer.
Some users have said that they still cannot access their savings, while others face long delays in withdrawing funds. A few say they have completely lost track of large sums of money (one account containing over £400,000 went missing following the transfer and has not yet reappeared, says Brennan). Those affected can seek compensation by making a formal complaint, says Myron Jobson on This is Money; Aegon has offered some users a £25 Marks & Spencer gift voucher.