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Women: Where there's a WILL.. there's a way to get yours right; IF YOU HAVEN'T MADE A WILL YET, HERE ARE SOME GOOD REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD DIAL A LAWYER RIGHT NOW.

Byline: BY MADELEINE BAILEY

WHEN you grieve for your nearest and dearest the last thing you need is the confusion and stress of having to sort out piles of red tape.

Each year thousands of people die without making a will. Perhaps they believe they have little of value to leave or that everything goes automatically to their spouse.

But the law is a minefield and it's virtually guaranteed that it will not to be that simple.

Making a will is far easier (and cheaper) than you may think - and it will save your relatives considerable time and cash. Follow our simple, jargon-free guide to get your affairs in order.

WHY YOU NEED A WILL

TO MAKE YOUR WISHES CLEAR: "If you don't make a will, not only will your possessions almost certainly not be distributed as you would have liked, but your relatives will be left with months of uncertainty and potential lawyers' fees," says will and legacy adviser Robert Bracher, of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).

First, the family will have to spend hours searching for a will, just in case you left one stuck in the back of a book, for instance.

Technically you can leave your will on a scrap of paper but it's only legally valid if you've signed and dated it in the presence of two witnesses who won't benefit and who have also signed and dated it in the same room at the same time.

And don't fall into the trap of thinking that your husband or wife will automatically get all your worldly goods. If you have children and die without making a will, just the first pounds 125,000 will go to your spouse along with personal belongings and half of the remainder of your estate. The rest will then be divided equally between your children.

"However, as property prices have rocketed over the past few years, your spouse could end up having to sell the house, depending on its worth and your savings," says Bracher.

And if you've been down the aisle more than once, the children from your first marriage could end up out of pocket, simply because when your current husband or wife dies the money will go to their children.

IT'LL SPEED THINGS UP: If there's no legally valid will, your relatives will have to apply to the Probate Court for a document known as a "grant of letters of administration" so your affairs can be settled.

"This will delay matters as they'll have to prove their identity but, if you make a will, you automatically name an executor," says Bracher.

And if you have no close relatives, a chunk of your estate could be spent on tracing distant relatives you've never had anything to do with.

WHEN TO UPDATE IT

STEP's Bracher advises people to reassess their will every five years. "Circumstances change - for instance, the arrival of grandchildren, deaths or losing touch with friends."

Financial circumstances may also change, affecting the value of your estate. And if you want to avoid inheritance tax, which kicks in at pounds 275,000, you may need legal advice so your relatives don't end up paying Chancellor Gordon Brown.

This may involve passing assets down to the next generation before you die, and making sure life insurance is written in trust so it doesn't form part of your estate.

Also what most people don't realise is that getting married invalidates any previous will. However, divorce doesn't automatically cancel a previous will though it does exclude the share that was left to your ex. It's also a good idea to update a will if a beneficiary changes their name or if any stocks and shares bequeathed in the will change name.

Store your will with a solicitor or your bank - and make sure your executors know where it is.

WHY CONSULT A LAWYER

ALTHOUGH technically you can waive the solicitor's fee with a DIY will, results could be disastrous if your intentions aren't clear or you haven't thought of every eventuality.

"For a person with a modest estate, a homemade will could be adequate, if they follow the instructions," says Bracher. "But many get thrown out because they contain mistakes. These range from not being dated, correctly signed or witnessed, making them invalid, to the listing of outdated assets, making them meaningless."

A lawyer will think of every eventuality - for instance, have you thought where you'd like your money to go if your children die before you?

Also, they could warn you that if both spouses die in an accident together, the elder partner's relatives will miss out completely.

When a married couple die together, by law the younger partner is considered to have survived the elder, so unless you stipulate otherwise, all your joint estate will go to the younger partner's relatives.

CAN IT BE CONTESTED?

A WILL can be contested by anyone who thinks they have a right to a share of your legacy. But there aren't many successful cases.

"One possible instance would be if the person wasn't in possession of all their mental faculties when they made the will.

"However, this is difficult to prove without a doctor's statement or documented evidence," says Bracher. "If you want to leave out a close relative such as a child, you should leave a note in your will explaining why you're doing this."

Another possible grounds for contesting a will would be if there wasn't adequate provision made for a handicapped child.

But forget about common-law rights for live-in partners. "There's no such thing," says Bracher. "Non-married partners are at the mercy of the courts, no matter how long they've been living together.

"If you're cohabiting and don't want to walk up the aisle, at least make a will so your partner is provided for after your death."

WHAT DO THEY COST?

MAKING a will should cost around pounds 50 to pounds 100. For a list of solicitors in your area who are experienced with wills, contact the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) on 020 7838 4885 or log on to www.step.org

Or contact Help The Aged's will advice service on 020 7239 1965 or log on to www.helptheaged.org.uk

CUT THE JARGON

Follow our translation guide to lawyer-gobbledegook:

ADMINISTRATORS: People dealing with the administration of an estate where there's no will or executor.

BEQUEST/LEGACY: A specific item or sum of money given in a will.

BENEFICIARY: Anyone who benefits from your will.

ESTATE: The total of what you leave.

DYING INTESTATE: Dying without making a valid will.

EXECUTORS: The people appointed in the will to deal with all your affairs.

PROBATE: A procedure where it's established formally whether you left a valid will and who your administrators or executors will be.

RESIDUE: What's left of your estate after debts, expenses, tax and legacies have been paid.

TESTATOR: The person making the will.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2006
Words:1158
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