Making a simple will can ensure your loved ones inherit what you want them to after you die.
But what if your family life is not so straightforward? And what about the wealth that you’ve saved up online?
As we store more of our lives on the web, including money via banking apps or personal possessions such as photos and videos, our wills have to reflect this, too.
Digital wills: As we store more of our lives on the web, including money via banking apps or personal possessions such as photos and videos, our wills have to reflect this, too
So to help you put your affairs in order, here’s Money Mail’s guide to writing a will in the modern age…
Apps and cash
To prevent your assets being lost, you should keep an up-to-date list of all the places where you hold accounts, including Isas, pension funds, life insurance policies and Premium Bonds.
There’s no need to include details of how much is in each account, although this information may be relevant for tax reasons.
Barrister Leigh Sagar, a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, adds: ‘Make sure an executor or a close family member knows where it is.’
Don’t put your security at risk by keeping a list of passwords. The companies will not ask for them after your death.
If you keep your list of accounts on a computer, you may want to make sure a trusted person can log on to it.
New rules for modern families
Any will written before you marry or enter a civil partnership becomes ‘void’. This means you could die intestate and have no say over how your assets are distributed.
If you die without a will in England and your estate is worth less than £270,000, your spouse will inherit everything.
Divorce won’t revoke a will but any wishes regarding your former spouse will be void.
If you re-marry without a will, any step-children you have will not automatically inherit from you.
Similarly, if you re-marry and die before your new spouse, they could exclude any children you already have.
A ‘life interest trust’, allows your new partner to live in your property for the rest of their life but you will choose who will inherit it when they die.
If you are not married and you die without a will, your partner will not automatically inherit anything unless you owned property together.
Many of us have digital assets saved on laptops, mobile phones and tablets — including photos, music, ebooks, and films.
You may be able to save some of these online to make it easier for your loved ones to access them.
Services such as Google Drive or iCloud allow you to store data and assets online rather than on a computer.
Mywishes.co.uk offers a free ‘digital will’ service, which allows you to allocate online possessions to friends and family
You can print a copy to give to people you trust, or store one with your will.
However, different companies will have their own policies. Apple will not allow you to pass on your iTunes collection.
So, unless you set up ‘family sharing’ your downloaded music will die with you.
A password manager, which stores your log-in details to help you access accounts automatically, can also help family members find passwords and usernames. LastPass allows you to give someone ’emergency access’ to your passwords after you die.
Witness it via a video call
Wills witnessed through video services – including Zoom or Microsoft Teams – are now legally binding.
The change, which will apply to documents signed from January 31 this year to January 2022, was brought in after thousands of wills had to be witnessed online during lockdown.
The inability to witness in person had created a legal quandary that the Government has moved to rectify.
Two witnesses still need to see the document being signed in real-time and both must have clear sight of your hands as you write your name.
Lockdown change: Wills witnessed through video services – including Zoom or Microsoft Teams – are now legally binding
However, you should only sign a will in this way as a last resort. And lawyers still fear it could lead to a spike in disputes.
Alex Mitchell, partner at Watsons Solicitors, warns: ‘Someone could claim it wasn’t possible to tell if another person was hiding in the room behind the will writer.’
And if the video freezes due to a poor connection, the procedure could be invalidated.
You must also ensure that you change the wording on the will from ‘signed in the presence of’ to ‘signed before witnesses remotely’. You do not need to have a will witnessed in Scotland.
It can cost less than you think
There are now far more options when it comes to will-writing and you need not employ a solicitor – although doing so can cost less than £100.
Some solicitors also offer to write simple wills for over-55s free of charge every October and March, as part of Free Wills Month.
Charities, such as Cancer Research UK, also offer free will writing services. Visit freewillsmonth.org.uk.
Online firms – such as Farewill and Co-op Legal Services — also offer will-writing services for simple estates.
You should also check if your home insurance policy includes legal cover, which may mean you are entitled to a free will.
Always check the firm is a member of the Institute of Professional Will Writers or the Society of Will Writers.
Will-writing services are not regulated, and cowboy firms can hit customers with unfair charges hidden in terms and conditions.