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Wills and legacies: What about the children?

27 October 2023

Christine Miles asks why people neglect to provide for their most precious belongings


“EVERYONE knows it’s a good idea to make a will, but, for many of us, it’s one of those things we never quite get round to doing.” This is the message on the “Writing your will” page on the Church of England website.

According to the latest survey on the issue, The National Wills Report: The culture of will writing in the UK in 2023, commissioned by the National Will Register, only 44 per cent of UK adults have made a will. More seriously, when considering the issue of making provision for dependent children, only 30 per cent of people under 55 have a will.

A failure to “get round to it” was, indeed, the commonest reason given for failure. But other reasons included people feeling that they did not have enough assets to warrant making one, not knowing how to go about making one, or feeling that the subject was too morbid to think about.

The survey revealed large regional differences, too. More than half of the respondents in the south-east and south-west (52 per cent) have written a will, but only 23 per cent of respondents in the north-east.

“We understand that determining who will be the guardian of your children is one of the most important decisions, as a parent, that you will have to make, and can be quite an overwhelming task,” acknowledges an article on the Society of Will Writers website, a non-profit-making self-regulatory organisation governing will writers and estate planners.

This is one of the reasons that Lara and her husband, Steve (all the names in this article have been changed), have not yet made a will. “Part of the reason we haven’t done one is it feels too difficult to know where to start on choosing guardians,” Lara said.

“When we adopted, we were told we needed to do a will, as, if we died together, the children would go back into the care system.” Lara is not sure if this is correct, but also acknowledges that they are currently “just up to our necks in surviving life”.

In choosing whom to ask to be guardians, the Society of Will Writers recommends that people consider location, lifestyle, other children, stability, personality, familiarity, values, and capacity.

Basic questions are: Would your children feel comfortable with your guardians? How would they feel about having to move away from their school and friends? Do you consider your prospective guardians as stable, capable, and caring? Do you share similar lifestyles, and religious or cultural values? And what might the impact be on all children, if the other family have their own children?

“I haven’t made a will yet, either. We have it on a to-do list,” says Jo, who attends a C of E church in Portsmouth diocese.

Jo and her husband, Frank, have two teenage children. They own a house, and have a thriving business. In the many years of being part of their church, making a will, leaving a legacy, or making provisions for the care of their dependants has never been mentioned, although the Book of Common Prayer instructs clergy to remind parishioners “often” of their duty to “take order for the settling of their temporal estates, whilst they are in health”.

Harry runs a coffee shop in Scotland, but for 15 years was a vicar in Oxford diocese. Making a will, and appointing guardians was something he never spoke about. And it is only now that he and his wife, Fran, have finally sorted out a will.

Fran says: “He was in Fresh Expressions, and the church that we were part of had mostly young adults, or middle-aged adults, and, therefore, death was not a topic we ever really talked about.

“We were moving house and purchasing our own property again, as opposed to renting. We have two businesses, and two small properties, one of which is being sold. For me, this situation was getting us across the line, having been married for 21 years, with three children, all of whom have additional needs.

“We’ve both become a bit more aware of our age and our fragility. Now, living in Scotland, we’re also hundreds of miles away from family or old friends; so, it was me who pushed for it.”

The couple went to a solicitor who understood about special-educational-needs provision. “We’ve now got a fairly straightforward will set up, with a separate clause regarding our middle child. Our money is essentially going to our children, but most of it will be split between two of our children, as our other child will be eligible for support through adult services.

istock Harry and Fran sought out a solicitor in Scotland who had expertise in special-needs provision, with regard to the stipulations in their will concerning their middle child, who has Down’s syndrome

“One of the delaying factors as to why it wasn’t done sooner was about who would be our executors, and who would look after the children if we were to both die. It’s been a massive headache, but I’m really glad we spent that money and got it done.”

A child’s legal guardian does not necessarily have to be the person that they live with. But the guardian is responsible for any decisions affecting the child in the case of both parents’ death, and they, therefore, would be the ones to decide whom a child lives with. The relationship with the guardian should be noted in the will.

It is advisable to have more than one guardian, or pair of guardians, in case your chosen guardian(s) is unable to act. (It goes without saying that anyone named as a guardian should be asked first.)

In a case when both parents die without a will, dependent children become the responsibility of the courts, and may be placed into care until a guardian is appointed.



Counting the cost

DRAWING up a will is the only way to ensure that your savings and assets are distributed according to your final wishes. For those who die without a will, their estate is distributed according to the rules governing intestacy.

A will is a last act of good Christian stewardship. But, aside from uncertainty over whom to appoint as guardians when there are dependent children, another reason that many people fail to prepare a will concerns the cost.

There are various options, and Citizens Advice provides good advice online about the various routes.

Every November, Will Aid provides the opportunity for participating solicitors to waive their fee for writing a basic will, in return for a suggested donation to Will Aid of £100 for a single basic will, and £180 for a pair of basic “mirror” wills. This donation supports the work of nine charities, including Christian Aid. Other similar schemes run at other times of the year.

Alternatively, the Church of England has forged a partnership with Farewill (News, 11 August) to offer a number of free wills. And many Christian charities also offer free will-writing services, such as the retreat house Scargill House, and Christian Aid.

A will is also an opportunity to leave a legacy to a charity that you have supported in your lifetime, or wish to support on your death, naming either a fixed amount or a percentage of your estate.

Alternatively, you can choose to leave a gift in your will to the Christian not-for-profit charity Stewardship. If so, an Expression of Wishes will explain to which charities you would like them to allocate your gift posthumously.








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