A new survey confirms that most of us are reluctant to contemplate our own mortality. Nearly two thirds of the population (59%) have not taken steps to put a legal will in place, while 34% say they’ve been meaning to, but just haven’t got around to it.
Insurance company Royal London’s Let’s Talk About Death survey series sought the views of 1,000 adults on a variety of topics related to death.
The company’s campaign aims to tackle the taboo surrounding death and encourage a dialogue on bereavement.
Noel Freeley is CEO of Royal London in Ireland. He understands why so many of us are reluctant to discuss death and dying, but argues that that reluctance is hampering the making of necessary provisions.
“While men appear to be slightly more prepared than their female counterparts, with 48% saying they have a will compared with just 34% of women, it still leaves over half the population unprepared.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were vast differences across the ages of those who participated in our survey. Of those in the 25-34 age bracket, just 27% had made a will, while 82% of those in the 75-84 age group had.
Some 55% of people said Covid-19 had made them realise how important it is to have a will in place.
Mr Freeley says: “While the survey results do show that most people have a sense of when they should make a will, the majority, it seems, aren’t following through with the necessary actions.
"Many people have the best of intentions, with 34% saying they’ve been meaning to get around to it, 25% believing they’re too young and 23% having just never thought about it.”
Some 34% of respondents said that starting a family is the best time to think about drawing up a will, while 17% said entering into a marriage or civil partnership was the right time.
“Many people may not realise that making provision for our passing does help, in many ways, to relieve some financial pressures as well as the burden of decision-making and administration on our loved ones," Mr Freely says.
There’s no legal requirement to make a will of course, but if you die without doing so, your estate will be distributed according to the Succession Act of 1965.
In broad terms, that works like this: If you have a spouse or civil partner but no children (or grandchildren), your spouse or civil partner gets the entire estate.
If you have children, your spouse/civil partner gets two-thirds and the remaining third is divided equally among your children. If one of your children has died, that share goes to their children.
If you have children, but no spouse or civil partner, your estate is divided equally among your children (or their children). If you have parents but no spouse, civil partner or children, your estate is divided equally between your parents or given entirely to one parent if only one is living.
If you have brothers and sisters only, your estate is shared equally among them, with the children of a deceased brother or sister taking their share. And if you have nieces and nephews only, your estate is divided equally among those surviving.
If you have other relatives only, your estate is divided equally between the nearest, and if you die without relatives, your estate goes to the state.
Chances are that this one-size-fits-all approach to inheritance will be inappropriate to your needs, and more particularly, the needs of those you leave behind. And this is where the will comes in.
Firstly, it limits the scope for conflict. Supposing you died without a will, leaving a spouse and adult children. Potentially, you’ve got a situation where a child could say that they’re entitled to a portion of the third of the estate the Succession Act grants them.
No matter what the surviving spouse’s moral claim on the family home may be, the courts will insist that the house be sold in order to meet the terms of the act.
By making a will, you both remove the potential for conflict and fulfill your own moral obligations. And of course, it means that you get to decide what happens to your possessions after you’re gone.
Besides the big stuff, you can make special bequests. If there are particular photographs or jewellery or anything that you would like someone in particular to have, the will empowers you to make that happen.
You can actually write a will yourself, without the help of a solicitor, or you can have a solicitor write it for you.
There is no set fee. You can usually access quotes on a solicitor’s website or by calling their offices. Shopping around is always a good idea.
As The Citizens' Information Board points out, a solicitor can advise you about your will and can ensure that it is legally valid. If you wish to do a DIY job, you’ll find plenty of resources online on sites such as Citizens Information.
The first point to make is that a will can only be valid if it’s in writing, if you are over 18, you’re of sound mind and you sign or mark the will, or confirm that you made the signature or mark in the presence of two witnesses — present at the same time if possible.
Those two witnesses sign the will in your presence, and the signature or mark occurs at the end of the will.
Note that a witness can’t be a beneficiary of the will. Also, if you want to change your will after you make it, you can add a codicil — which is just an amendment or change — and it too must meet the same requirements as the will itself.
Your will doesn’t have to be in any set format. But it will need to have your name and address and a statement that says you revoke or disown all earlier wills or codicils.
It must appoint one or more executors, who are the people who carry out your wishes after you die, along with their names and addresses. Your will should be dated and signed by you and your witnesses.
“The reality is that death is not something that most people like to talk or even think about,” says Mr Freeley. “It can seem like something that’s very far off and so planning for it now seems morbid and unnecessary, or for some, it may be difficult or make the prospect all too real.”
“There’s a lot of emotion associated with this type of life admin that’s very different to other types of financial planning, like taking out insurance or opening a bank account. But I do think talking about it can help.”