Wills are essentially about stating what you want to happen with your property in the event of your death. You may never have thought of your children as your property, but you do need to think about what will happen to them in the event of your death. Here are some points to consider.
You can make a will in favour of your child before they are even born
Basically, you would set up a trust with your child as the beneficiary and then make out your will in favour of the trust. While this does involve some extra steps (for which read extra paperwork and costs), the benefit of this arrangement does not necessarily end with the birth of your child.
Quite the opposite, it can last for as long as you want, even when your child is an adult, which can be very useful. For example, you could gradually allow the child more control over how their inheritance is used but keep some restrictions in place until your child is safely into “proper” adulthood, say their early twenties, rather than handing it all to them when they reach 18 (as is the case with Junior ISAs).
In this context, it’s also worth noting that life insurance pay-outs can be made into trusts, in which case they are held to be outside the main estate and hence exempt from inheritance tax. So, in principle, you could set up a trust fund for each of your children and have the proceeds of your life insurance policy split between the trusts. On a separate note, you might also want to set up a trust for your partner to receive their share of the life insurance, as this could make their lives much easier while probate is being completed, especially since the process is notoriously slow.
Your will can specify guardianship arrangements for your children
Should you fail to make a will, the government, or more accurately the family courts, will decide who gets guardianship of your children and this may result in them being placed in a children’s home while the issue is being decided, which may take some time, especially if there are family battles over guardianship. Resolving the matter beforehand will not only give you peace of mind but will also allow you the chance to integrate the guardian into the child’s life so that there is minimal disruption if anything happens to you and your spouse.
You avoid invoking the pain of simultaneous death rules
Contrary to what some TV programmes might like to suggest, it is not necessarily all that easy to work out which of two (or more) people died first. The law recognises this, which is why there are simultaneous death rules. Basically, these are exactly what they sound like. If there is no practical way of working out who died before whom, then the law will, essentially, take its best guess. In the absence of well-written wills, this can create serious complications and frustrations.
Your children will be protected in the event of your spouse remarrying
If you die before your spouse and do not leave a will, then typically your spouse will inherit most, if not all, of your estate. This may seem fine given that your spouse will be the other parent of your child. The problem is that if they then remarry and do not make a will, their spouse will become the default beneficiary of their estate. Depending on circumstances, your children may have a claim, but even if they do, the usual outcome is that the surviving spouse inherits the majority of their deceased partner’s estate.