Most people should have a will. “Why?” you may ask. Making a will is vital if you want to be certain that your wishes will be met after you die. Having a will can distribute your property, name an executor/executrix, name guardians for your children, forgive debts and more. Wills are legal documents that are signed by you – the maker of the will, and two witnesses. Having a will also means that YOU, rather than Barbados’ laws, decide who receives your property when you die. A will makes it easier for your family to be clear on what your desires are and to fulfil them, at an already difficult time. Without a will, the process can be time consuming and extremely stressful. A will is the only way to make sure your savings and possessions (your estate) go to the people and causes that you care about.
While making a will is not always easy, this article is designed to highlight the issues you should think about and the areas in which you need to seek professional advice.
A will prevents intestate succession
When you die without a will, intestate succession laws take effect. Intestate succession law is where Barbados’ laws will decide which of your family members will inherit your estate and in what proportion. In Barbados, your spouse, children, or parents would take priority under the succession act when it comes to dividing the assets you leave behind. Where there is no spouse or children, your next of kin takes priority – this could be your parents, siblings, nieces or nephews. The succession act does not provide for peculiar circumstances or the special dynamics in each family.
The advantage of making your will is that it allows you to distribute your estate based on your own wishes/feelings rather than how Barbados’ law would distribute it. For example, some people may want to leave gifts to friends, universities, schools, neighbours, charitable organisations or churches – and intestate succession does not allow this to occur. If you require other persons or organisations to inherit some of your property, or if you want to decide what proportion of your gifts to give, a will can ensure your wishes are followed.
Your will does more than distribute property
Most wills distribute the testator’s (the maker of the will) property. However, a will can do much more than that. For example, you can use your will to:
– name an executor/executrix to close your estate;
– name guardians for your children and their property;
– create trusts for your children or other beneficiaries and
– forgive debts, just to name a few.
When you make your will, you will need to choose your executor/trix (s). These are persons who deal with distributing your money and property after your passing. Being an executor/trix can involve a lot of responsibility, so carefully consider whether the persons you want to act on your behalf are suitable and are willing. One should choose more than one executor/trix, so the responsibility of your estate would be a shared one, and there is a remaining executor in case one of them dies before you do.
Executor/trix are usually appointed as trustees as well, in the event that a trust is created within your will. If anyone under the age of 18 is to be a beneficiary of a trust, you should appoint at least two trustees/executor/trix.
There is also the option of appointing a professional executor, such as an accountant or an attorney. They will charge for their services; however, they will be paid from your estate. Your estate is made up of the total money, property and investments that one leaves behind when they die, minus funeral expenses or any debts. If your estate is a particularly large or complicated one you should consider appointing a professional executor.
A Will May Reduce Family Conflict
Blended or large family
The division of an estate after death comes with many emotions and the slightest differences can result in your family members left feeling hurt. Disputes over wills can cause arguments among family members and you may even need an Attorney to resolve them. Leaving a will should remove any doubt about whom you wish to inherit your estate. Close relatives and dependants may still want to try to make a claim on your estate, but an Attorney can advise you on the likelihood of this happening and how best to prevent such a situation from occurring.
If you come from a small family and you want to leave everything to them, making your will would be fairly straightforward. However, as divorces become more complicated and blended families are becoming more common, dividing assets has become equally more difficult. Having a will would make your wishes clear, particularly when you want to leave money and gifts to various family members or to persons outside of your immediate family. A will that clearly lays out one’s wishes may reduce some conflict and assumptions over what you would have wanted carried out on your behalf.
For example, if you are in your second marriage and have children from your first marriage, you may want to use a will to clearly divide your property between your second spouse and your children. Without a will, your property would be divided between them according to our laws– this could produce an uncomfortable result and speculation about what you would have wanted. Making a will can give you peace of mind and prevent your family from fighting over your possessions while ensuring that what you leave behind will go to the persons you intended it to go to.
In the case of older persons who are leaving a will, one should make sure that they attain a medical certificate to show that they are of sound mind when making the will to ensure that their will stands in the court of law in the event that someone tries to contest it.
Writing a will is especially important if you have children or other family members who depend on you financially. Your will tells people two very essential things. Firstly, who should have your money, property and possessions when you die and secondly, who will be in charge of organising your estate/ following the instructions you left in your will.
Your will could also be used to tell people about any other wishes you have, like instructions for your burial or cremation and the type of funeral service and music you would like. Your executor/trix will make it their duty that your wishes are followed.
Signing the will
You must sign your will in the presence of two witnesses, and those two witnesses must also sign it in your presence. All three persons must be in the room together when each person signs. It is very important to ensure that beneficiaries under the will (or their spouses or civil partners) do not act as witnesses, or they will lose their right to the inheritance. Beneficiaries should not be present in the room when the will is signed.
Changing a will
You should review your will at least every five years and after any major changes in your life, such as having a child, if you got married, separated or divorced.
If you want to change a will, you can either revoke the old will and make a new one or add a codicil to the original will. A codicil is a supplement to the will that details changes or additions. This must be signed and witnessed in the same way as an original will. If you revoke a will you should destroy it and state on the new one that it revokes all previous wills. If you marry, remarry or enter a civil partnership this will usually revoke a previously existing will. Being divorced also does not automatically invalidate a will made during the marriage.
Make a plan
Before making an appointment with an attorney to write a will, start by thinking about what you want to leave and to whom and then talk to someone you trust – they might have some opinions you have not yet considered.
Once you have an idea of your wishes, see an attorney to discuss your next steps. Remember, it is imperative to review and update your will to make sure it always reflects your desires of what you would like to transpire when you pass away.