One of the biggest mistakes we can make is not making our wishes known when it comes to distributing our belongings and assets after we die. But who should you include when you’re making a will?
Unless you have the most straightforward life arrangement – one spouse, one set of kids, and no one else you love (or like) enough to leave your assets to – things can get tricky. This is even more critical if you have what’s called an ‘irregular relationship’.
What’s an irregular relationship?
Life can get messy, and trying to sort out where the pieces lie after a death can be very hard. In fact, lawyers hear many heartbreaking stories where the extent of the complication was challenging to unravel after someone’s death and very painful for those left behind.
In a nutshell, the term ‘irregular relationship’ sums up relationships outside what might be defined as the expected standard. These relationships can be tricky to define and for that reason, can be easy to challenge. Here are just a few examples that aren’t black and white.
- A wealthy woman who has, in recent years, come to care for the young unrelated person who has been her care giver.
- A married man who had an extramarital relationship which resulted in a child with his mistress.
- An elderly person with a much younger partner.
- A person who split from his long-term partner, found someone else and set up home with them, but forgot or omitted to change his will which named their ex.
It’s only when you start unravelling what might fall under this realm that real-life situations start coming to mind. So let’s translate these into some examples you might be familiar with.
- Model Anna Nicole Smith
- Musician John Lennon
- Whitney Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown
- Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman
These well-known people died either without a will (intestate), with an old will, had moved on from the relationship, had new children who weren’t included in the will, or were involved in a relationship with an extreme age gap leading to questions from their offspring or other potential beneficiaries. All these situations resulted in extensive court battles which would have eaten away at the assets, and caused significant distress.
This is why it’s so critical to write down your wishes, with the guidance and support of a qualified specialist lawyer, so your wishes can be followed.
Who should you add to your will?
To make sure your assets go where you want them to go, you should name them in your will. So include anyone you want to make a beneficiary (the person who receives part or all of your assets). Relationships are your business up until you pass away. After that, it becomes the business of the court to define and assess what the relationship was.
If they’re not mentioned in your will, then those with a more obvious connection – children, siblings, parents – might be entitled to inherit over them. This could cause unnecessary angst for the people you intended to receive your assets.
Adding a person to your will is the only way to ensure they’re considered as part of your will and estate.
Thinking of making your own Will? There are a few reasons why you should think again.
• You risk not expressing your intentions clearly enough
• You risk not drawing-up your Will properly
• You may create a tax liability that your beneficiaries will have to pay
Changing your will
As we said life can be messy, so it’s critical to ensure you’re updating your will as and when your situation changes. Changing a will significantly might require a new version to be completed.
If changes are not extensive, an option is to make a codicil. This is an update or addition to a will that explains, modifies, or revokes part or parts of a will.
Your lawyer will ask you questions like:
- Who are your family members?
- What are your assets?
- To whom do you want to leave your assets?
- Why have you chosen to do it that way?
Most of the time, we can’t predict when our time here will come to an end. For this reason, make sure that your loved ones are considered, and keep it up to date to ensure any changes in your relationships are factored into your will and estate.
When life is more complex, there’s a greater risk that they’ll be excluded and overlooked. The biggest advantage of making a will with a specialist law firm, like CM Lawyers, is that it almost always eliminates that risk because they know how to guide you.