When it comes to estate planning and end-of-life decisions, a will plays a pivotal role in ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. In English law, there are various types of wills, each tailored to different circumstances and needs. In this blog, we will explore the most common types of wills and provide insights into their purpose and when to consider using them.
1. Simple Will: The Foundation of Estate Planning
A simple will is the cornerstone of estate planning. It is the most common type of will and is typically utilised by individuals with uncomplicated estates. A simple will outlines how your assets and property should be distributed after your passing. While it may sound straightforward, it serves as the foundation for all other types of wills. This will specifies your beneficiaries, their inheritance, and any other special instructions you may have.
2. Joint Will: A Pact Between Two
A joint will is a distinctive type of will created by two individuals, often spouses, who mutually decide how their assets will be distributed. In essence, it’s a legally binding agreement between the two parties to respect each other’s wishes regarding their estates. This can be particularly useful for couples who have similar estate planning goals. However, it’s essential to note that modifying a joint will can be complex, so careful consideration is advised and we do not recommend this; a Mirror Will is much preferable in our opinion.
3. Mirror Will: Echoing One Another
In contrast to a joint will, a mirror will is designed for couples who want to maintain their individuality while expressing similar estate planning intentions. Each partner creates their own will that mirrors the other, hence the name. The advantage of mirror wills is flexibility; if one person’s circumstances change, they can update their will without affecting their partner’s plan.
4. Living Will (Advance Directive): A Different Kind of Will
A living will, also known as an advance directive, is not your typical last will and testament. Unlike other wills that distribute assets, a living will focuses on your healthcare and medical treatment preferences in case you become unable to make those decisions yourself. This document can outline your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments, organ donation, and more, ensuring that your medical care aligns with your personal beliefs and values. However, these have been replaced in recent years by a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health & Welfare.
5. Testamentary Trust Will: Managing Assets With Precision
For those with specific goals in mind, such as providing for minor children, disabled family members, or supporting charitable causes, a testamentary trust will may be the ideal choice. This type of will establishes one or more trusts to manage and distribute assets according to your instructions. It ensures that your financial legacy is used for the purposes you designate and can provide certain tax benefits.
6. Conditional Will: Contingent on Circumstances
Conditional wills introduce an element of contingency into the estate planning process. These wills include provisions that depend on specific circumstances or events. For instance, you can specify that certain assets will go to one beneficiary if they meet particular conditions, such as completing their education, and to another beneficiary if those conditions are not met. Conditional wills add an extra layer of complexity but can be useful for individuals with unique circumstances or concerns. However, you need to be very careful to make sure the terms of the will are not contradictory.
7. Mutual Wills: Honouring Shared Intentions
Mutual wills are often chosen by couples who want to ensure that their assets are distributed as they jointly intend. These wills typically include agreements that neither party will change their will without the other’s consent. Mutual wills create a legally binding commitment between partners to uphold the agreed-upon distribution plan. They are an effective way to prevent future disputes and provide peace of mind to both parties ; a Mirror Will is much preferable in our opinion.
8. Codicil: A Will Amendment
A codicil is not an independent will but an amendment or addition to an existing will. It is used to make minor changes or updates to the original will without the need to create an entirely new document. Common changes might include updating beneficiaries, changing the executor, or modifying specific bequests. Codicils are an efficient way to keep your will current as your circumstances evolve. We do not recommend this as there can be complications if the codicil is lost (the original will stands) or vice versa if the original will is lost!
In conclusion, English law provides a range of will options to suit various circumstances and preferences. To make an informed decision about the type of will that best aligns with your goals, it’s advisable to consult with a professional who specialises in wills. They can provide expert guidance, ensuring that your will complies with all legal requirements and is a true reflection of your wishes. Estate planning is a vital aspect of securing your legacy and providing for your loved ones, and the right type of will is a crucial component of this process.