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Sorting your Affairs: Q&A on Wills & Estate Planning

  1. 1. What happens with joint bank accounts where both husband and wife are account holders? Does the account get frozen? Is half of the amount on the account part of the state and subject to taxes?

Jointly held assets pass to the survivor on death.  The inheritance tax return for the deceased’s estate will record the deceased’s half share of these.  If the estate is an inheritance tax paying estate then this would capture and include these assets.

  1. 2. What happens with a bank account where the deceased is the account holder and his spouse has a mandate on the account? Does the account get frozen and included in the state? Does the mandate get immediately revoked? What if the spouse’s salary goes into that account? Does it mean she won’t be able to access her money and pay inheritance tax for her own money?

This would suggest the bank account is a solely held account and should be frozen on death and might create hardship for the survivor.  The spouse may have to redirect her salary elsewhere and wait until she has a grant of Probate to gain access to this account.  If the Will is tax efficient with the spouse being the beneficiary, the estate would be exempt from Inheritance tax.

  1. 3. Is a handwritten note you leave in a specific place at home recognized as an official Will?

Great question with the answer being ‘No’!  There is specific legislation as to the creation, format and execution of a Will in order for it to be a subsisting Will.  The Will should also be witnessed by two independent individuals who are neither beneficiaries to your Will, or family members who would inherit in the event your Will has a partial intestate element to it. Usually solicitor offices supply witnesses to eliminate this issue for clients.

  1. Is inheritance tax applied to a property if the property is in joint names and the spouse/partner is still alive?

If the property is in joint names with the spouse then it will go via survivorship law to the surviving spouse exempt.  The issue of inheritance tax may arise on second death however.

  1. Does a Will have to be verified by a solicitor/trusted public servant to be valid? Can a family member verify?

No and no.  Family members can witness your Will and you need two witnesses however witnesses cannot benefit from your Will.  Further in the event there was a partial intestacy situation to your estate it might mean they are excluded.

6. If I was gifted a large amount of money by a family relative, is there a need to declare this?

On their death possibly if it was within 7 years of their death.
On your death it will form part of your own estate and will be declared.

7. Is it possible to make provision in your Will for property you have not inherited yourself?

Yes, absolutely with the proviso that that particular gift may fail if you do not actually have it at the time of your own death.

8. What happens if you predecease your benefactor?

See above.  Further your benefactor may extend that legacy beyond you, eg., I leave £50,000 to my friend Brian absolutely and in the event he predeceases me to his children whom survive me in equal shares absolutely.

9. How many times may I amend or review my Will?

The short answer is- as many times as you like.

You should review your Will at least every five years and after any major change in your life, such as getting separated, married or divorced, having a child or moving house. You can make changes by adding a note to your existing will, this document is called a ‘codicil’, or by making a new will.

10. If you own property abroad, can you leave it to someone in the UK? Or does it fall under the property law of that location? e.g. Portugal property usually gets split between direct family members, so if I am not married to my partner would I be entitled to it, if he left it in his Will in the UK?

The law in other jurisdictions varies and usually has separate rules for moveable assets and immovable assets.  A property would be immovable and the law of the land will dictate what freedom the testator has in terms of leaving that via their Will to beneficiaries or whether the property is inherited by blood line relations.  Those with foreign assets should seek legal advice from a qualified solicitor within the jurisdiction the land is situated.

Your NI Will can state that it is to cover your worldwide assets and try to reinforce what you want to happen with all your assets; however you should be mindful that without proper advice a particular legacy could fail.  

In contrast to that if you do have foreign assets you may already have a foreign Will and it is important you discuss this with your solicitor to avoid revoking that particular Will. 

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