A new survey by Co-op Legal Services has revealed that almost one in two Brits (49%) are living without a will, meaning they risk losing control over their assets when they pass away.
The study of 2,000 UK adults revealed that one in ten people (9%) haven’t created a will because they don’t know how to start the process, and seven per cent believe the process is too expensive for them to consider.
When it comes to talking about wills and end of life wishes with loved ones, almost a third of people (31%) say they have never had this conversation with their nearest and dearest and would try to guess what they would have wanted. It seems that a stiff upper lip mentality is still prevalent for many, with 15 per cent of those polled saying that it’s a taboo subject to talk about wills with family.
However, many people have recently considered these conversations and what they want to happen to any of their assets, with 14% of respondents saying they had created a will as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, with over a quarter (26%) being below the age of 35.
Many misconceptions around wills and inheritance still exist, so Co-op Legal Services’ study also decided to test the nation on some of the most common myths, with some shocking results:
#Myth 1: If a parent dies, any remaining children or stepchildren will automatically inherit any assets and can decide what to do with them without needing a will. – FALSE
67% of those polled got this wrong – it’s a common misconception that any estate can automatically be handed down to children or stepchildren. In reality, this can depend on different factors, such as whether the individual is married or in a registered civil partnership and the size of the estate. Also, step-children are not treated the same way as biological or legally adopted children so cannot inherit if there is no valid will in place.
#Myth 2: If you have no blood relatives and no will, your estate may be passed on to the Crown. – TRUE
31 per cent of those polled didn’t know the correct answer – if no blood relatives exist or are found after 12 years from death, then, with no valid will in place, the Government’s Bona Vacantia Division will administer the estate and the Crown (technically the Duchy of Cornwall) will become the owners of everything that’s remaining.
#Myth 3: If someone becomes unable to manage their own affairs during their lifetime, the executors named in their will can manage their affairs for them, e.g. making medical decisions and dealing with their finances. – FALSE
A huge 77 per cent of those polled didn’t know the correct answer. If someone cannot make decisions about their own finances or medical treatment, another person cannot just assume the position to make these decisions on their behalf – not even their executor named in their will. For this to be able to happen, it is possible to give someone legal authority to make these decisions by appointing them as an attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). Without this in place, the only option would be for family members or loved ones to apply to the court to be appointed as the person’s Deputy. This is a long and expensive process, meanwhile, bank accounts could be frozen, making it difficult to cover care costs and daily living expenses.
#Myth 4: If someone is married, their spouse automatically inherits their assets, so they don’t need a will. – FALSE
44 per cent of Brits polled got this wrong. Without a will, inheritance rules recognise someone’s spouse as their main beneficiary, but whether they inherit everything depends on what was owned, whether it was owned solely or jointly, what the total worth is and whether there are any children.
Even if a person is happy for their spouse to inherit all their assets, a will can help confirm other wishes, such as who is going to be responsible for dealing with the estate and making sure everything is done as planned for, but it can also include wishes around their funeral, and what they would like to happen if their spouse dies before them. There’s so much to consider and a will can help make things clearer and easier for everyone involved.
James Antoniou, Head of Wills and Estate Planning at Co-op Legal Services, says: “It’s troubling to think that so many adults are living without a will. The last year has shown that, sadly, circumstances can change in a heartbeat and it’s essential that the assets you have worked all your life for go in accordance with your wishes. We’re strongly encouraging people to take control of their estate planning – the earlier the better – and to seek professional guidance to ensure they’re getting the right will for them.
“Despite what people think, the process doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. We know that many of our clients take a great deal of comfort knowing that, should the worst happen, they’ve taken steps to ensure the right people or charities benefit from their estate once they are gone.”