Talking to your family about making a will

No-one likes to consider their own mortality or what will happen to their money when they die, much less discussing this with their family. 

With the number of inheritance disputes on the rise, it is understandable that people fear discussing the terms of their will with their family. Where a family member is being excluded, or receiving less than their siblings, it can lead to a family fall out. 

However, such conflicts can be unavoidable and, in our experience, people are more affected by being left out of a will when they were expecting to inherit than knowing beforehand that they were to be excluded. 

This is why it is important for you to discuss the terms of your will, or proposed will, with your family so that you can ensure they understand your reasoning. You can be given the opportunity to resolve any potential disputes that may arise after your death. Of course, it is not always possible to prevent disputes but the fact that any excluded beneficiaries knew of their position prior to your death can be used to help uphold your will.
Below are some hints and tips which can help you have this conversation, whether you have already made a will, are in the process of making a will, or are preparing to do so.

Fail to prepare – prepare to fail

We are often told that if you fail to prepare then you should be prepared to fail and this is certainly the case when talking about your will.
If you have already made one, you should re-read a copy of your will and ensure that you understand how it will operate in practise. If it is not accurate or no longer relevant, for example, due to one of your beneficiaries passing away before you, then you should consider contacting a solicitor to update your will.
If you are considering making or changing a will, then you should carefully think about who you wish to inherit your estate. It may be helpful to draw a family tree to ensure you don’t forget about anyone. You should also consider any close friends or charities that you would like to benefit and, if so, to what extent.
Once you have decided on what needs to be in your will, or refreshed yourself with what you decided before, you should write down how you came to your decisions. This will help you when speaking with your family and ensure your views are expressed accurately. 

You have prepared yourself to talk about your will with your family but when is the right time?

Every family dynamic is different. Some families may feel comfortable discussing their will over the Christmas table, whereas others prefer not to have such conversations during festivities. There is no right or wrong time to have the talk but it is helpful to let your family know that you would like to, in order that they can prepare. This then opens a dialogue in which you can agree mutually on a time that is best to speak.

Talk to your family about your will

When you meet to have the talk it is important that you are in control and that everyone gets off on the right foot.
You should begin by explaining the purpose of the meeting and what you aim to achieve. This may be a number of things, such as:

  • ensuring that your executors know who they are. Read more about the role of an executor.
  • explaining your funeral wishes, or
  • have a child understand why they have been or are going to be excluded

Instead of disclosing the specific terms of your will or proposed will, it may be helpful to start by explaining the conclusions you reached about the goals of your will. 

For example, this may be to ensure that a child who has a disability is well provided for in the future or to ensure that your grandchildren have sufficient funds to attend university. This will provide a focus for your family members, and something for you to refer to, when you read out the what's in your will. It would be useful to have the note you made of your reasons for making your will available to you at this point.
Once this is completed, you should then invite your family to share their thoughts and opinions. This provides the opportunity for any helpful suggestions to be raised and any grievances to be aired.
When people think about their “estate” they often think about property and money but forget items that are of sentimental value. This conversation would be a good time for your family members to ask whether you could leave items, such as family photographs, to them.
Unlike other countries such as Scotland, we have testamentary freedom in England & Wales. Testamentary freedom which means that you cannot be forced to include people in your will. Even if we did not, no one can dictate to you who should inherit and it is important to make sure you are not pressured into changing your will or your instructions by the opinions of others.
If a family member has strong opinions then you can diffuse this awkward situation by stressing that your will is “for now” and can be changed in the future. Circumstances change all the time, families grow and split apart every day. This is why we always recommend that wills are reviewed every 3 to 5 years.

Walk the walk

After you have had the talk you should take time to reflect and consider whether there were any points raised that have caused you to change your mind.
Once the terms of your will are settled, you should consult with a suitably qualified solicitor to have it either drawn up or amended and executed. A solicitor will also be able to provide you with guidance on any aspects that you have not considered, such as tax planning.
Of course, it is always open to you to initiate such a conversation with your partner, parents or grandparents to ensure that they have considered whether their current will, or the intestacy rules, will operate in accordance with their wishes. You can encourage them to make or review their will if it doesn’t do so. 

Ask for legal advice

Birkett Long’s team of wills solicitors are available for a chat on one of the following numbers:

Wills solicitors in Colchester - 01206 217300

Wills solicitors in Chelmsford - 01245 453800

Wills solicitors in Basildon - 01268 244144