Half of people over the age of 40 have taken no steps to plan for the future or make a will – and are therefore at risk of their home and savings not going to whoever they want to leave them to.

According to the survey, commissioned by Censuswide and commissioned by Solicitors For The Elderly, only one in two have started to get their affairs in order by writing a will, setting up a lasting power of attorney or planning for inheritance tax.

The importance of having a valid will was revealed to 51-year-old Yasmin Abdallah (not her real name) last year when it cost her her home.

Only one in two people over 40 have started to get their affairs in order by writing a will, setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney or planning their inheritance tax

At 54, her partner Imran (not his real name) was fit and active before contracting Covid-19 and had never written a formal will despite working in the legal profession.

His death in January 2021 sparked a legal dispute with Imran’s ex-partner – with Yasmin not receiving a penny of his £600,000 estate, including the £500,000 property she shared with him, as Imran’s ex-partner’s name is still was listed in the acts.

Yasmin and Imran were together for nine years and entered into a Sharia marriage in 2014, a union recognized by Islam. However, it had no legal status as the couple failed to register it with the local authorities.

Yasmin, who lives in Cambridgeshire, said: “The whole experience was terrifying. Imran would be so angry if he saw what happened as a result of his death without a will.’

But Imran was not alone: ​​almost one in three people over 55 have yet to write a will, while only a fifth of under-35s have one, according to insurance company Royal London.

Administering an estate intestate – the term used for those who have died without a will – can be time-consuming, expensive and painful for surviving family members.

James Antoniou, Head of Estate Planning at Co-op Legal Services, says: “The importance of having a valid Will cannot be overstated.

Many people mistakenly think that their loved ones will automatically inherit their assets when they die, but when a person dies without a will, they lose control over what happens to their assets.

This could mean that their final wishes about who will receive their savings, assets, property and investments may not come into effect, leaving loved ones disappointed.’

When making a will, it is important to think about your dependents. You need to consider how your property is divided and who will look after children under 18.

You also need to think about protecting your partner. According to the Office for National Statistics, now that fewer people are getting married, the number of cohabiting households is on the rise.

But the law hasn’t caught up, meaning unmarried couples are largely unprotected if one of them dies.

Unlike married couples or those in a civil partnership, there is no legal right to property that is not jointly owned, although cohabiting couples in Scotland can claim money or property from intestate inheritance.

Plan: When making a will, it's important to think about your dependents.  You need to consider how your property is divided and who will look after children under 18

Plan: When making a will, it’s important to think about your dependents. You need to consider how your property is divided and who will look after children under 18

Claire Moffat, a pensions and legal expert based in Royal London, says: “You may be faced with a situation where a childless couple have lived together for ten years, but the house was bought before the relationship began and is in the name of only one of them.

“If that person dies, probate laws will mean the house will be sold and the proceeds can go to the deceased’s parents.”

For couples who jointly own property, if one partner dies intestate, the other partner can keep the home. However, joint tenants may find that they end up co-owning their home with their deceased partner’s mother or father.

Getting your affairs in order can also help avoid large inheritance taxes on any assets you leave behind. Anything left to a spouse or civil partner is exempt from death tax, and leaving assets to children or grandchildren can also result in reduced inheritance tax.

To write a will, you need to complete some basic steps, such as valuing your assets, including property, savings, investments and other assets, less any debts.

You’ll need to decide whether to give anything to charity, and you’ll also need to choose your executors—the people who handle the distribution of your assets after you die.

When you are writing a will, it is often best to get advice from a lawyer who specializes in wills and testaments, especially if you have complex financial affairs.

You can also use a professional will writer or do it yourself.

Anyone can start a will writing business, so make sure your business is regulated. Unregulated parties can put your savings at risk.

If you decide to make your will, you need to make sure it is valid. If you sign a will, it must be done in the presence of independent witnesses.

Intestate wills aren’t the only headache: cases involving outdated or imprecise wills can be just as messy, says Holly Chantler of law firm Morr & Co Solicitors.

In one recent case, a mother was forced to sue her three young children after her husband died and was bypassed in transferring his assets, Ms. Chantler says.

“The wife did not own all the property, and much of her husband’s house and savings went to their young children. It was a real mess — and it could have been avoided.”

Such complications can arise when couples are registered as tenants in common, each owning a certain share of the property. Joint tenancy can solve this problem.

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