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Keeping you straight
by Norman G Geddes

WITH the end of the tax year approaching, this may be the time that you get your financial affairs in order, and this should include making a will. Or if you have already done so, making sure that it is up-to-date and fully reflects your current situation and wishes.

Because if you do not make a will, on your death the law steps in, and your estate may not be divided up in the way that you would like it to be. This may cause your spouse and family a great deal of unnecessary inconvenience at best, and at worst disastrous consequences. It is of particular importance where partners are not married. For instance, under Scottish law, divorce and remarriage do not automatically revoke a previous will, so it is important to keep your will updated when circumstances change.

You can use your will to leave a legacy to a close friend or friends, to a charity, your old school or university, or to a religious organisation. But usually most people will want to leave most of their estate to their spouse, partner or children. If you are the joint owner of a house, then it may be essential to state in your will what you wish to happen to your share of the house after your death. Otherwise your share of the house may not be automatically transferred into the name of the co-owner, and that could cause enormous problems.

You may need to use your will in order to minimise, or better still avoid the risk of Inheritance Tax. If your estate is worth more than the current threshold of £255,000, any surplus over that amount will be taxed at 40%. Just over a quarter of a million pounds sounds a lot of money, but rising property values and the fact that the Inheritance Tax is not being raised in line with inflation means that more and more people are risking falling into the net. Seeking advice from a solicitor can avoid this.

In your will, you can appoint an executor, who will be responsible for dealing with your estate after your death. The executor will be legally bound to act in accordance with your instructions. You can appoint your spouse, your partner, your children or close friends or relatives to be your executor. In some cases, it may be advisable to appoint a solicitor as executor.

Making a will is usually quite simple and need not cost a lot. You should ask a solicitor to quote a fee for preparing a will. Some solicitors offer a free service for making straightforward wills, sometimes in return for a donation to charity.

Special arrangements can be made for blind people to complete wills.

While it is possible to prepare your own will, or to use a printed form that you can buy from stationers, there are dangers that the will may be invalid or may not have the effect that you intended. Accordingly, if you want to make a will, go to see a solicitor first. Many solicitors will offer a free first appointment on any matter.

Norman G Geddes is senior partner with Ayr solicitors Frazer Coogans.

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