Asset Protection, Small Business

Expert Interview Series: Tom Stansfield of The Society on Protecting Your Assets in Your Will

Expert Interview Series: Tom Stansfield of The Society on Protecting Your Assets in Your Will

Tom Stansfield is Head of Communication and Marketing for the Society of Will Writers. We recently asked for Tom’s insight on writing a will, including things to remember when crafting your will and how to best protect your assets. Here’s what he shared:

Tell us the story behind the Society of Will Writers. What is your mission?

The Society of Will Writers was set up in 1994 by five professional will writers, one of who is the current Director-General, Brian W. McMillan.

The Society of Will Writers is a nonprofit, self-regulatory organization that seeks to protect the public and serve the interests of those men and women who are active professionals in our field.

To promote to the public at large the real need and sense in having a valid Will; and to act as a self-regulatory body by vetting practitioners through stringent membership requirements, proficiency standards, and ongoing training.

At what point in life should an individual consider writing a will? When is the best time?

I suppose that this is all circumstantial but the fact is that any adult in England and Wales can write a Will providing they have the capacity to do so.  This means that from the age of 18 it should be a consideration. We know that 18-year-olds have better things to do with their time and money than write a Will and I think that this is shown by statistics from the ONS when they tell us that 67 percent of the U.K. adult population don’t have a valid Will.

We should all consider our estate planning whenever we have something of value (whether personal or monetary) that we would like to leave to someone specific.  If there is a ‘best time’ to write a Will it would probably be following a life-changing event; like losing a loved one, having a baby, or buying a house because these events cause an even greater need to plan for the future.

What considerations should individuals make when starting to plan their will? Where should they begin?

When starting out it can seem a bit daunting but really it’s quite simple. Make a list of the things that make up your estate. This list should be accompanied by the names of people you would like to inherit these things. If you have minor children think about who you would want to be appointed their guardians. Perhaps consider anyone you would like to exclude and list your reasons for this. That’s the difficult bit.

Then you should approach a professional Will writer or solicitor. This should be someone who is trained and ‘safe to do business with’. Members of the Society of Will Writers have to provide us with proof of proficiency and insurance. Once you feel comfortable with the person writing your Will and you have checked their credentials then you are free to set up a meeting at a mutually convenient time for them to take your instructions and discuss your estate.

What should be included in a will? What areas do you find individuals tend to focus too much on? Where do they not focus enough on?

Everything is important… Some of us have smaller estates than others but we’ve worked hard for what we have and as such we want to make sure it passes to the people we would like to inherit it.

Things that are commonly included in your Will and should be focused on include guardianship, funeral wishes, making sure the family home is dealt with, any personal/financial gifts (including gifts of sentimental value), the correct appointment of trustees and executors, as well as making sure the residue of the estate is dealt with.

People tend to focus too much on what they have to give and perhaps should give a little thought to what debts they may still have. Gifts can fail if there is not enough in the estate to pay them.

What can individuals do to ensure their assets are protected?

There are lots of practical considerations here. Firstly, and quite simply, the answer is proper estate planning with a properly trained individual. They will be able to help you ensure your assets are passed onto those you would wish to receive them.

In a little more depth, assets can be protected with the use of lifetime planning. Products such as lifetime trusts could provide protection for certain assets to ensure that they are passed down the bloodline or to provide for beneficiaries who may not necessarily be able to manage the assets themselves.

What are the most common mistakes you see individuals making with regards to wills? What do these mistakes cost?

We see plenty of mistakes. Some of them include:

  • Using trusts solely for the purpose of deliberate deprivation.
  • Someone deciding that they only have a simple estate and writing the Will themselves using a DIY Will kit from the a high street retailer. We tend to find that the estates here are rarely as simple as first thought.
  • Not giving thought to the people we elect as executors. This could be problematic if they don’t see eye to eye or for logistical reasons.
  • Improper storage decisions. This could be anything from paying for lifetime storage with free updates and then finding out a couple of years later that the Will Writer has disappeared and the client can’t find their Will and loses the money, to storing the Will at home and finding a family member destroys the Will either by mistake or by ‘mistake’.
  • Not signing the Will properly rendering it invalid.

What types of advice do will writers find themselves repeating to clients over and over?

This is a tricky one. Judging by the technical inquiries we get here at the SWW I suppose it is relevant to current topical events that are affecting the profession. Recently, the idea of excluding someone from a Will, protecting assets from care fees, and providing clients with a clear understanding as to what the trusts mean, how they are set up, and what they do.

How often and when should a will be revisited and/or revised?

We suggest that a member of the public revisit their Will every three to five years. This would then take into account changes to family or personal circumstances.

When should individuals enlist the help of a professional in writing a will? How can they ensure that professional is qualified and has their best interests in mind?

We advise that you always seek professional advice when writing your Will.  Using a member of the SWW or using a solicitor provides assurance that the person is ‘safe to do business with’. SWW members undergo annual training and have to provide the SWW with proof of professional indemnity insurance. In addition, SWW members adhere to our Code of Practice. If someone is ever unsatisfied with the services provided by a member of the SWW then they are welcome to approach the SWW for our intervention.

What are the risks of not getting professional advice?

There are a number of risks associated with not receiving professional advice. Consider that the risks are not really realized until the testator has died and often it’s the beneficiaries or intended/disgruntled beneficiaries that raise these issues. If something were to go wrong when using the advice of a professional you have the protection in knowing that the professional will writer is indemnified in case of an error or mistake.

Creating documents yourself or not seeking professional advice puts you in a ‘tough luck’ situation if something goes wrong. In such a situation you may be able to use statutory instruments such as a deed of variation but there are no guarantees that this will work or will be accepted by all parties.

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