Protecting your family’s future: Why you must ensure your parents have a will

Reviewed by James Badcock

As much as we don’t like to think about it, as we get older we have to face the reality that our parents won’t be around forever, and this includes making certain that our parents have an up-to-date will (and knowing where they keep it).  

Ensuring your parents have a will is extremely important. Without a will, the distribution of assets upon their death will be determined by the government, which may not align with your parents’ wishes and can cause significant emotional, legal and financial issues for you and your family members.

Convincing your parents to write a will if they haven’t already got one can be a difficult task. Many people view it as unpleasant to think about, and the process of writing a will can be dull and tedious, involving hard decisions about the division of assets. Paperwork is no one’s idea of fun, and we often have busy lives and other priorities that mean writing a will gets put off indefinitely.  However, it is essential for you to ensure that they have a will in place to not only guarantee that their assets are distributed according to their wishes, but to bring you peace of mind and avoid any potential legal disputes and stress among family members following their death.

What happens if my parent dies without a will?

When someone dies without a will in the UK, it is referred to as dying “intestate.” This means that their assets will be distributed among their next of kin in a specific order established by the government, rather than by the deceased person themselves. This can lead to a number of family disputes, as the assets may not be distributed in the way that your parent would have wanted, so that some family members are not provided for. Without a will, the court will also need to appoint representatives to administer your parent’s estate, which can lead to delays and added costs; it can take up to two years for the estate to be fully distributed, which can be a long and stressful time for family members.

Why hasn’t my parent written a will?

Not having a will is not that uncommon, even for people who are getting into old age. Recent polls show that around one fifth of 65- to 74-year-olds in the UK have not made a will, and only around one third of people aged 75 and over have a power of attorney – which is another important legal document that your parents should have in place.

There could be several reasons why your parents may not have written a will or are resistant to writing one. These can include:

  • Denial: Many people may not want to think about their own mortality and may avoid the topic of writing a will because it forces them to confront their own mortality.
  • Complexity: Some people may find the process of writing a will to be complicated and overwhelming and may not know where to begin.
  • Cost: Some people may be hesitant to write a will because they believe it will be expensive to do so.
  • Lack of urgency: Some people may not see the need to prioritise writing a will, as they may not think they have enough assets to make it worthwhile, or that they still have a long time to live.
  • Emotional barriers: As well as finding it hard to confront the idea of death, some people may be putting off writing a will because of other emotional barriers such as fear, guilt or difficulty making decisions on the division of assets.
  • Procrastination: Some people may simply put off writing a will because they’re busy with other things or because they don’t want to deal with it at the moment.
  • Lack of education: Some people may not know the importance of having a will and may not have the proper education or information about the benefits of having a will.

How do you go about making a will?

Wills must be made in writing, signed by the person making the will, and witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries of the will. It’s important to ensure that the will is legally valid and that it accurately reflects your parent’s wishes.

There are a variety of options and services available in the UK for writing a will.

Budget options for simple wills include online will-writing services, which can be less expensive than hiring a solicitor. These services typically provide basic templates and straightforward guidance for completing a will.

For more complex wills where there are multiple assets and beneficiaries, it is wise to hire a solicitor. Solicitors can provide more comprehensive legal advice and are able to draft a will that takes into account your parents’ specific needs and circumstances. While this option can be more expensive upfront, it helps you avoid errors and disputes among beneficiaries and can help reduce tax liabilities. A solicitor will ensure that the will meets all the legal requirements and is valid, and can provide ongoing advice and support as circumstances change, giving you and your parents’ peace of mind.

James Badcock, a London-based solicitor specialising in estate planning, advises. “There are various situations where a standard will may not be sufficient and where advice on other issues is required as part of your parent’s estate planning.  This may be if your parent’s estate is high value (so likely to be subject to inheritance tax), if your parent has children from more than one relationship, or if there are international issues due to your parent’s personal or family connections. Business owners will have additional matters to deal with in their planning. Also, if your parent’s mental capacity could be called into question, then it is important to have legal and medical professionals involved in their estate planning.

  • Executor: the person(s) named in the will to carry out the instructions outlined in the will
  • Beneficiary: the person(s) who will receive assets or property from the will
  • Residuary estate: the assets remaining after specific gifts have been distributed and debts have been paid
  • Codicil: an amendment to a will
  • Guardians: the person(s) named in the will to take care of minor children
  • Probate: the legal process of proving the validity of a will

Appointing an executor

In making their will, as well as deciding on the distribution of their assets, your parents will need to appoint an executor. An executor is the person responsible for carrying out the instructions outlined in a will. It’s important to choose an executor who is trustworthy and capable of handling the responsibilities that come with the role. The executor is responsible for identifying the assets in the estate and securing them, reporting tax liabilities, distributing the assets, paying off any debts, and ensuring that your parent’s wishes are carried out. Some people choose to appoint a professional executor, such as a solicitor, to handle these responsibilities.

Updating and cancelling a will

It’s important that you and your parents review their will periodically to ensure that it continues to reflect their wishes as circumstances change. Good practice is to review a will every five years and after a major life event, such as the death of a spouse or the named executor.

If they need to make changes to their will, they can do so by creating a codicil, which is a legal document that amends the existing will. Codicils must be signed and witnessed in the same way as witnessing a will. There is no limit to how many codicils you can add to a will. If your parent wants to make major changes to an existing will, it is best to create a new will that revokes all previous wills and to destroy the will they wish to cancel.

How do I talk to my parents about writing a will?

Talking about wills with your parents is not an easy conversation to have. People don’t like talking about writing a will. It is a sensitive subject, but it is a conversation that everyone needs to have.  It is best to approach the conversation with knowledge, empathy and understanding. By providing your parents with clear, accurate information and addressing their concerns, you can help make the process of writing a will less daunting and more manageable.  The earlier you can have this conversation with your parents the better.

Here are six tips for convincing your parents to write their will.

Coordinate with your siblings first: Unless you’re an only child, before having a conversation with your parents, it’s important to first have a conversation with your siblings. By doing so, you can ensure that you’re all on the same page and that you can approach your parents as a united front.

Clearly communicate your intentions: When bringing up the topic of writing a will, it’s crucial to make it clear that your motivation is not about personal gain. Instead, emphasize that your goal is to ensure that your parents’ wishes are honoured, and that family harmony is maintained during a difficult time.

Be informed: Before sitting down with your parents, take the time to research the options and cost of writing a will and familiarize yourself with the negative consequences of not having one. This way you’ll be better equipped to make a convincing argument for why they should write a will.

Show empathy: The process of writing a will requires people to confront their own mortality and to talk about difficult financial matters. These can be uncomfortable topics, so it’s important to be sensitive and understanding when having this conversation. If your parents are hesitant, go easy on them but be persistent. Gently bring up the topic from time to time over the course of a few weeks or months, so they can gradually get more comfortable and used to talking about it.

Lead by example: No matter your age, if you have assets, it’s important to have a will. By writing your own will, you can use it as an opportunity to initiate a conversation with your parents about writing theirs. Suggest that they write their will at the same time as you or ask if they can help you with yours. This approach can make the idea less intimidating and encourage them to write one as well.

Create the will yourself: If your parents are hesitant to consult a lawyer, consider helping them create a do-it-yourself will using online will-writing services like Co-Op Legal Services. These websites offer a simple and affordable way to create a legally binding will in the UK.

In summary

You will never regret making sure that your parent or parents have a legally valid will in place, that reflects their wishes, appoints a competent, reliable executor, and is reviewed periodically and updated as circumstances change. While there may be several reasons why your parent may not have written or updated their will, it is important to have an open and honest conversation with them to put a will in place as soon as possible as they get older.

Common questions

  • How much does it cost to write a will?

The cost of writing a will in the UK varies depending on factors such as complexity and the type of service used. Online will writing services can be as low as £10 to £30, while DIY kits fall in a similar price range. Solicitor-drafted wills typically range from £150 to £500 or more, depending on the complexity of the estate. It’s crucial to choose the appropriate option based on your circumstances, as poorly drafted wills can lead to legal issues in the future.

  • Can a will be updated or changed?

Yes, a will can be updated or changed with a formal document called a codicil or by creating a new will. It’s important for your parents to keep their will current to reflect any changes in circumstances, assets or wishes.

  • What would happen if my parent died without a will?

If your parent dies without a will (intestate), the state dictates how their assets are distributed following a specific legal framework, which may not align with their wishes.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. It’s always important to consult with a legal professional to ensure that your will is legally valid and that it accurately reflects your wishes.

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