5 Things You Should Never Put in a Will

22 Apr 2024 | Joseph Gunn
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When it comes to writing a will, you want to make sure that your wishes are known and that the people you love and care for are looked after. But it’s not the place to try to micromanage your family’s future or rewrite legal protections that already exist. To ensure everything goes according to plan when creating your will, here is a list of five things you should never put in it because they could cause problems or legal issues further down the line.

1. Conditional Gifts

Gifts that have a condition attached can be voidable, which means they can be overruled and the beneficiary excused from complying with the condition. So if you’re planning on leaving your house to your son but only if he gets divorced, think again. You can make encouragements in your will, for example, “I leave £1,000 to my niece as a graduation gift,” but bear in mind this is difficult to police unless you’re planning to have the executor of your will monitor what the beneficiary is doing in the future! Such gifts could also delay the conclusion of the estate administration significantly.

If you wish to have greater control over the timeline or conditions of a gift, talk to your trust solicitor about setting up a discretionary trust in your will.

2. Funeral Arrangements

While you can place your funeral wishes in your will, understand that there’s a real possibility that your loved ones will start planning your funeral before your will has been retrieved and they may not see them in time. Even if they do, funeral clauses in a will are not legally binding. Macabre as it sounds, the executors appointed in a will have legal “ownership” of the body. This gives them the right to make decisions regarding the funeral, regardless of what you say in the will.

As a better option, talk to your family about what kind of funeral you’d like, who should give the eulogy or where you would like to have your ashes scattered. You can also write your instructions down in a Letter of Wishes. While not legally binding, this document can act as a guide for the executor of your will and other family members.

3. Lump Sums to Vulnerable Beneficiaries

If you’re leaving an inheritance to someone who is vulnerable or disabled, then giving them a lump sum in your will may not be the best idea. For one thing, it might affect their entitlement to means-tested benefits. For another, they may not be able to manage their finances properly or have the capacity to make good decisions with the money.

A better option is to set up a trust so the money can be released when the beneficiary needs it over time. As the trust doesn’t form part of their assets, it should not affect their benefits, although it’s always best to seek advice from a specialist to confirm this is the case.

4. Things You Don’t Exclusively Own

Obviously, you cannot leave something that is not entirely yours, like a leased vehicle. But that’s not all. Joint bank accounts and joint tenancy property cannot be included in a will, because they automatically pass to the surviving owner. Pension benefits will normally go to your spouse under the rules of the scheme. Life insurance usually gets paid automatically to the beneficiary upon your death, and you cannot override this in your will.

Business partnerships will likely be another tricky area, as it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to transfer your partnership shares without the consent of the other partner(s). It’s best to speak to your solicitor about any provisions you need.

5. Gifts to Pets

You can’t directly leave money or property to your pet as they are not people and cannot own anything in English law. You might think this is unfair but imagine the alternative – if you leave your pet a fortune, someone would have to step up to manage it and your cash could end up in the hands of someone who would not use it wisely (or at all).

The best way to ensure that your pet is provided for after you die is to leave it to a trusted person and gift them money for the care of it. Or leave a gift to an animal charity to show your support.

How we can help

If you wish to write a will and you’re worried about what to put in it, please get in touch. We can help you create a will that suits your wishes, helps protect the people you care about and doesn’t cause any legal headaches down the line. Call 020 7485 8811 or fill in the contact form below.

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