Third-year law student Cliona talks wills and probate - and shares a handy hint for getting free, confidential legal advice in Cambridge.
Why do I need to make a will? Won’t my stuff just be given to who I want it to? Unfortunately, that isn’t always true.
You ask any law lecturer or solicitor about making a will and they’ll point you in the direction of the Wills Act 1837 and tell you to look at section 9, that gives you a vague and round-a-bout way how to make a valid will. But what does that actually mean?
Wills are a way to make certain that your Aunt Ethel gets the sofa, your brother Mark gets your car and grandfather Colin gets nothing because he was never nice anyway. If this isn’t put into a formal, legal document that often means that your stuff doesn’t go to the people you want it to.
Thankfully, in England and Wales, we have testamentary freedom which is a fancy way of saying we can do what we like with our wills and even leave people out that we don’t like, family or not. We can even have some fun and make secret codes that cause our family hassle trying to prove that they're person number 2 that gets gift number 3 (yes, that is an actual case) or leave a gift of 65p to someone we dislike and then make them pay for postage which happens to be 65p as well (again, a real case). Of course, I'm not suggesting you actually do this - I'm merely demonstrating that this freedom allows us to dispose of the property we own however we want, but it still needs to be in a formal document.
Homemade wills are popular and, although they are the cheaper option, that doesn’t help in the long run if they are deemed to be insufficient. The family may then be put through the heartache of applying to the courts, and the intestacy rules (which can be found online if you’re curious) may not distribute the estate as the deceased wished. I recently lost a close family friend and was speaking to their daughter, my friend, about whether they had a will and she just said, “I have a piece of paper where I wrote down who she wanted to give stuff to and got her to sign it”, unfortunately that probably won’t be enough.
There is a long list of formalities that need to be complied with, and without them the will, or piece paper, will be invalid and intestacy rules will apply. No doubt my friend will get the estate along with her sister, but there are too many questions that need to be answered and they need to be answered while she is still grieving. It also means loving family can become horrible demons fighting over scraps, because they all want a piece of the pie that they aren’t really entitled to.
Wills are a morbid thing that nobody wants to talk about or think about, but they are necessary if you want to ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes after you’re dead. All I know is, I’m being buried in my pyjamas so I can at least be comfortable and that is definitely in my will.
Important note: always seek professional advice to address any legal matters. Our law clinic in Cambridge can help support you with free and confidential advice in family or employment matters. For more information, please visit: aru.ac.uk/law-clinic