Where There’s A Will There’s A Way; or Deciding What Happens Without Us

Since before Cub’s birth I have been thinking about the responsibilities that are mounting up and what would happen if tragically our lives were to end suddenly. It has meant that we have started to think far more seriously about worryingly grown-up subjects like life insurance, pensions, guardians and the dreaded Will and Testament.

The purpose of a will is to direct those family and friends around to follow your wishes. It allows you to gift items, donate, or leave in inheritance your possessions to those you love. The reason it has become more important to Bear and I than before is we now have Cub (and Guin, our dear not-so-little Bernese) to worry about. Without at least thinking about what might happen we are leaving our families to struggle without warning.

By creating a will we aim to assist, direct and gift, basically deciding what will happen without us. It may seem morbid but on the other hand it is somewhat freeing to think that, once done, there will be a way to move forwards, a way for Cub to be provided for. There were things that I needed to learn though, so, for those of you in similarly confused positions I thought I’d put down the basics to what you want to include in a will and how to write one step-by-step (it does not need to be as fancy or complicated as you might have first thought).

  1. Name your Very Important Persons

    The people you need to refer to include any children you might have, pets if you wish, spouse/partner, and “Executor”. The Executor sounds fancy but really it is simply the person you have trusted with knowledge of the will, passwords, etc who will execute (get on with) what you ask for within the will.

  2. Organising Guardians for Dependants

    If you have dependants (your children, pets, or even simply those you care for on a regular basis) this is when you start thinking seriously about what would happen to them. In regards to children or pets you might want to name a guardian to care for them if you were no longer around. It is probably a good idea to ask this person or people before naming them in your will, because although we hope that they will be able to take over when required, sometimes situations are as great as they look from outside and they may not feel emotionally or physically able to do so, however much they want to follow you wishes. It is also worth thinking about whether any money you might have goes with your child/ren and how it is to be handled. You might want the guardian to be in control of this asset until your child/ren is an adult (18 or 21 years is up to you), or you might want to put a percentage aside for adulthood and have the rest to help them care for your child/ren over the years (to pay to clothing, school trips, university, etc – all practical issues when bringing up a child). Having a Savings Account in your child’s name may well help a little with this as they are often already set up to open at a later date.

  3. List your property/assets

    This does not need to be item by item unless there is something specific you are passing on. For us this meant simply listing broad terms such as books, art supplies, furniture, etc, because really we don’t own too many expensive or inherited items. Those we do we list separately. At this point you can start to name people, organisations or charities you wish to pass your possessions onto. Personally, I would suggest making things as clear as possible to avoid disagreements, confusion and extra worry on the part of those you leave behind. If you would like clothing, old books, etc to go to a specific charity, now is the time to say.

  4. Funeral Arrangements

    Whether writing a joint or single person will, it is probably a good idea to put some kind of idea together as to the kind of sending off you would like. This doesn’t need to be too detailed (it might even be better if it wasn’t) but it might be useful to mention any specific place you wanted to be buried if you want to be buried, or a emphasis you may want (eco, celebratory rather than solemn), or a specific church/ceremony/person, etc.

  5. Witnesses to Signing the Will

    The last part of writing any will is that it is witnessed, signed, and put in a safe secure place where the executor will be able to find it in the event of your death. Your witnesses can be anyone but need to see you sign and date the will, as well as signing and dating it themselves.

  6. Ch-ch-changes

    If you want to change your will there are two possibilities:
    – making an official codicil (an alteration) where this must be signed and dated with witnesses in the same way as the will. You can make as many codicils as necessary but they should only be minor alterations.
    – for major changes you should write a new will. This will should make clear that it revokes (cancels) any previous wills and codicils. In this case you just do the above points all over again with whatever changes you want.

Legally even if your will doesn’t look pretty, if you have it witnessed, signed and someone knows it exists, it will count and be legally binding in the event of your death. It is far less complex than people think and although you can get fat complicated packs of posh paper and instructions you really don’t need to. Personally, I would suggest that having something is better than nothing, but you can always consult a lawyer if you really want to make sure it’s all perfect.

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