Why do parents need a will?
Making a will might be the last thing on your mind as you adapt to your busy new life as a parent, but it's part of your responsibility to your children.
If you die without a will, it could lead to uncertainty and financial worry for your family and dependents.
Below, we explain why you need a will and what it needs to include.
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What happens to your family without a will?
Without a will, your estate will be divided according to a complex set of laws called intestacy rules, with a court deciding how to apply them to your estate.
By writing a will, you can make sure that if you or your partner were to die, your family will be provided for and your estate will be divided the way you wish for it to be.
But it’s not all about money. Making a will also allows you to appoint guardians for your children. If these plans aren’t outlined in a will, and both parents are deceased, your local authority or the courts may be left to decide who should look after your children.
If you don't have a will:
- your spouse, cohabitee, partner or civil partner won't automatically inherit everything
- if you are not married to your partner, they won't inherit anything
- your children's guardianship may be decided by a local authority or court
- any step-children or foster children won't inherit anything.
Writing the best will for your children
Find out what you need to include in a will for your children.
1. Appoint a guardian for your children
Think carefully about who you would appoint as a guardian in the event that you, or you and your partner, were to die.
If you don't choose a guardian, the local authorities will be charged with deciding – and while they often prefer immediate family, this is not automatic.
Keep in mind that the appointment of a guardian automatically ends when your children reach the age of 18.
Most people nominate more than one guardian, or at least a substitute guardian in case the first is unwilling to unable to take the role. Obviously, you'll want to discuss this with the people you choose before naming them.
Choosing a godparent is not the same as choosing a guardian, as godparents have no legal rights. If you wish the godparents to look after your children if you die, you must name them as guardians in your will.
- Find out more: How to make a will
2. Set out a plan for your child's finances
Think about how you could make arrangements to cover the expenses of bringing up your children in the event of your death. How can your estate cover these costs?
In your will, think about balancing the competing needs of all members of your family after your death.
You need to feel confident that your estate will provide for your partner, children, step-children and any other people or organisations that you wish to benefit.
3. Provide for your step-children and other dependents
If you have step-children, they will not automatically inherit from your estate unless you specifically include them in your will. So consider making arrangements in your will to meet their financial needs.
This may also be the case for other children you care for – such as foster children – as well as any dependent adults that rely upon you.
4. Revise beneficiaries from trusts, pensions or insurance
If you have a life insurance policy, a pension scheme or other assets held in trust, these will not be passed down within your will.
If you want your children to be inherit these financial products, you'll need to contact each provider and nominate your children as your beneficiaries.
- Find out more: What to put in your will
5. Decide on the age of inheritance
Consider at what age you want your children to receive full control of their inheritance.
Unless the will says otherwise, they will automatically receive access to their assets at 18 in most cases, although the default in Scotland is for the child to inherit at 17.
Before this age, your children can still benefit from their inheritance, but will not be able to manage it personally. The assets will be held on trust, and managed by a trustee to benefit your child.
So, for example, the child may receive an allowance from a cash fund, but will not be able to withdraw money without the trustee's consent.
You might think 18 is too young an age to expect your children to be financially responsible. If so, you can set a higher age if you wish or put conditions on their access. Many people opt for 21, or even older.
5. Appoint trustees for your child's inheritance
If you die before the age your children can inherit, their assets will need to be held in trust.
To manage that trust, you need to nominate a trusted person, known as the trustee.
Think carefully about how the best person would be to safeguard your children's assets and help plan for their future. The trustee is essentially in control of your children's finances. You might want to appoint your partner as one of the trustees, with either one or two further trustees, or substitute trustees in case both parents pass away.
Generally, choosing one trustee is a bad idea. There's a risk that person may not be around, in which case there are rules that dictate who would be appointed. The rules give precedence to family relations, and there's a chance that the person who is chosen may not be who you would prefer.
- Find out more: Will trusts and lifetime trusts
7. Consider trust beneficiary payouts
If a partner or other beneficiary will receive a large payout in the event of your death – for example, from your life insurance policy – they may not need a large legacy from your will too.
This could free up assets you can leave for your dependents. Think carefully about the arrangements in place for all the members of your family and how they will be protected.
If you have decided to establish a trust for your children, you'll also need to give guidance to the trustees on how you would like the money to be controlled. Should they receive everything at maturity, or would you like to provide an income? Would you like to dictate that the assets should be used for specific goals, such as education, living costs or stepping onto the property ladder?
8. Make a new will if you marry or enter into a civil partnership
When you marry or enter into a civil partnership, any existing will is automatically revoked. So after your marriage, you should execute a new will to ensure your wishes are carried out.
Alternatively, if you're planning to marry soon, you can include a clause in your will stating that you anticipate marrying your (named) fiancé and that the will is to be effective both before and after your marriage.
9. Consider family heirlooms
While the most important points are who will look after your children and how they will be provided for, you may wish to make specific legacies so particular items are passed on to your children, rather than sold to pay for inheritance tax or otherwise.
10. Schedule a will review
Circumstances can change, so it's important to keep your will up to date to accommodate this.
Reviewing your will every five years or so will give you a chance to think about whether the people you've nominated to look after your children are still suitable, and whether your instructions still reflect your family's situation.
How to write your first will
When it comes to making your will you have a number of options, including writing your own will, using a solicitor or using a will-writing company.
You can find out more in our guide on how to make a will.