Rory Fitzgerald looks at an issue we all need to face
It may seem like a very business-like way to acknowledge your own mortality, but making a will is a grim task that everyone should face up to. The failure to make a clear and valid will can leave a legacy of confusion, discord and uncertainty for your loved ones.
A County Kildare solicitor who specialises in wills and probate told The Irish Catholic: “You would not believe the emotions that come into play around a will – especially if there’s a farm or family land involved. There can be all sorts of accusations flying around and sometimes brothers and sisters can get stuck in litigation for years, which often only drains everyone’s funds. That’s why a will needs to be crystal clear, to avoid that sort of bitterness, which can tear families apart. I’ve seen it happen.”
It is of course possible to write your own will without legal advice, however there are a number of disadvantages to this. Not least, the will may be invalid, the bequests may be contradictory and complex tax issues may not be adequately addressed. The clear advice is to consult a solicitor.
There are a number of strict basic criteria for a will to be valid, including that:
- It must be in writing.
- The testator must be over 18, must be of sound mind and must be acting of their own free will.
- The will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses
- Neither of these two witnesses nor their spouses may stand to benefit from the will.
- The signature must appear at the end of the will.
Any later amendments to the will must be similarly witnessed in a document known as a codicil. The codicil must meet the same requirements set out above. It is generally simpler to write a new will, revoking the previous one.
Sometimes wills are challenged if there is doubt that the person was of sound mind at the time they made the will. A testator must have “understanding and reason” and – at the time the will is made – not be suffering from any mental illness that would affect their ability to make a will.
If the person making the will does, even occasionally, suffer from such a mental condition, it is advisable that medical evidence, such as a doctor’s certificate, is left with their will, proving that they were lucid at the time the will was made.
The person best qualified to advise on drafting a will is your solicitor. You can shop around or haggle for the best rates, but you making a will is not as expensive a process as many imagine.
The relatively small investment required to have a properly drafted, clear and valid will is well worth it.
Arranging a legacy is much more straightforward than you might have thought.
Decide which charity/charities you would like to help. Perhaps there is a cause you have always wanted to support but never had the chance. Now is the time to make a list, and decide who you would like to benefit from your legacy after your death.
Ask your preferred charity/charities for more information about legacy giving. You should also be able to arrange a confidential, no-obligations meeting with them to discuss how your legacy can best help the causes you care about most.
If you already have a solicitor, speak to him or her about changing your existing will to include your favourite charity/charities. If you donít currently have a solicitor, itís very easy to find one whoíll draw up a will for you for a nominal fee.
It is entirely up to you whether you tell your chosen charity about your legacy. On the one hand, you may wish to keep this very private matter to yourself. But on the other, charities are extremely grateful for this information because it helps them to plan their services for the future. So simply by letting them know, you can begin the process of supporting the causes you care about most.