Four ways to make your will watertight
The growth in challenges may make writing a will seem a bit pointless, but the experts stress it's still worth doing.
"Around two-thirds of people don't bother to write a will," says Margaret Windram, associate solicitor at Thomas Eggar.
"But this means their money will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, which are rarely what you'd want."
Unless your affairs are incredibly simple, professional advice is essential.
"A solicitor will make sure everything is done correctly, but they'll also understand the potential issues so these can be taken into account in the will," explains Cordelia Brand, partner in the private client department at Howard Kennedy.
Professional will writers also understand how to make wills work. For example, rather than allocating financial amounts to different beneficiaries, they'll recommend awarding percentages to allow for any growth – or shrinkage – in the value of your estate.
They will also consider the financial planning aspects of your will, highlighting any areas where you could reduce the inheritance tax liability you're leaving.
A will must be signed by two independent witnesses at the same time. If this doesn't happen then the will can fail. Also, if a beneficiary acts as a witness, this can invalidate their inheritance.
Supporting evidence can be useful too. A 'letter of wishes', explaining your plans, can help your executors when they deal with your will.
You might also want to provide supporting evidence from a doctor, especially where the person writing the will is old or has health problems, to show that fraud has not taken place.
Your choice of executors can also make a difference. Helena Luckhurst, senior solicitor in the private client department at Speechly Bircham, says: "If your executors are close to your family and likely to act in the interests of your beneficiaries this will improve the chances of your estate being distributed according to your wishes."
It can also help to discuss your wishes with your family. "Talk to the people concerned so there are no surprises," Windram says. "It's better if people understand what you're doing, although it won't necessarily stop them challenging the will."
Once your will is written it's important to review it regularly. Ian Grant, vice-chairman of the regulatory board of the FPWPP, recommends you check it every five years: "Your life can change a lot in five years," he says.
"You should also check the will when there's been a major change in your circumstances."
The tax levied on the total value of your estate after you die. IHT has to be paid by the beneficiaries of your estate before they can receive any of the money from it. The money can’t be taken from the value of the estate _– it has to be paid before any money can be released. There is an IHT threshold – known as the “nil-rate band” – below which no tax is levied (£325,000 in 2011/12). Any amount above the nil-rate band is subject to tax at 40%. If your estate totals £600,000, there is no tax on the first £325,000; however your estate will pay 40% tax on the remaining £275,000, a total of £110,000. Prudent tax planning can reduce your IHT liability, so always consult a specialist solicitor.
Everything you own: all your assets (property, cars, investments, savings, insurance payouts, artwork, furniture etc) minus any liabilities (debts, current bills, payments still owed on assets like cars and houses, credit card balances and other outstanding loans). When you’re alive this is called your wealth; when you’re dead, it becomes your estate.