I’m sure most of your employees know what a will is, but I expect many of them have put off making one, thinking it’s something they can do later on in life. In fact, our own research conducted by Opinium in 2017 showed that, overall, only 41% of adults in the UK had made a will and, more worryingly, only 16% of those aged between 25 to 34 and 26% of those aged between 35 and 44 had made one. These are the age groups most likely to have young dependent children and, increasingly, many of them will be living together without being married.
By not having a will in place, these employees are putting the future security of their partners and children at risk. Dying without a will means the State effectively decides how the deceased’s assets – their property, money and belongings – are distributed, regardless of what he or she might have wanted. And, if a couple are unmarried, the partner left behind is not automatically entitled to inherit anything. This can make an already distressing situation more stressful and create conflict between family members. It can also result in delays in getting matters resolved. The knock-on effect for employers can be longer employee absences from work and the resulting losses in productivity often leading to fracturing of workplace relationships.
So, what can employers do to help?
Perhaps the first step is to be aware of the reasons why an employee might need to make a will at key points in their lives. To help, we’ve listed six key life events which should prompt every employee to make or update their will.
Secondly, employers should consider providing a will writing service as an integral part of an employee assistance or financial wellbeing programme. Financial advice, counselling services and legal helplines are, of course, important components of an employee assistance programme, but by enabling employees to proactively protect the interests of their loved ones in advance, a will writing service can make an EAP even more robust.
Reasons why your employees should make a will
1. They’re a parent
Perhaps the most important reason for parents to make a will is that it allows them nominate someone they know and trust – a guardian – to look after their child or children should they both die before their children are eighteen. Without a legal guardian, it will be down to the courts to decide who cares for their children. And if they have children from a previous relationship, making a will lets them specify exactly what they’d like each one of their children to inherit. They may also avoid their children inheriting too young by specifying the age at which they can receive a gift, having it held in trust until then.
2. They’re buying a property
For most people, their home is the highest value item in their estate and what happens to it when they die needs careful consideration. The most important factor in determining what happens to the house when someone dies is how it’s owned. The options are: sole tenant, joint tenants or tenants in common. If their house is owned as a joint tenancy, it will automatically pass to the surviving tenant if the other dies. However, in the case of sole tenants and tenants in common, a will should specify exactly what should happen to the property when the owner or owners die.
3. They’re cohabitating
Unlike married couples or civil partners, unmarried couples are not automatically entitled to inherit one another’s estates should one partner die without a will. This applies even if the couple have been living with each other for years and have children together. It’s therefore essential for unmarried couples in this situation to each make a will to specify exactly what they’d like their partner to inherit if they die. Without a will, the deceased’s partner wouldn’t be entitled to anything and his or her estate would be distributed by the rules of intestacy to other family members.
4. They’re getting married
Creating a will is perhaps the last thing on most newlyweds’ minds, but many people won’t be aware that when you get married any will already in place usually becomes invalid. It’s therefore important for newlyweds to make a new will and specify exactly how they’d want their estate to be distributed to their spouse or civil partner and other family members. This is especially important if they’ve been married before and have children from a previous relationship.
5. They’re getting divorced
If someone made a will while they were married, it’s likely they left their estate to their spouse should they die before him or her. They might also have named their spouse as an executor – the person responsible for ensuring their wishes are carried out. It’s therefore really important to make a new will to reflect the changes in circumstances post-divorce and so avoid family disputes and delays in getting the estate settled.
6. They’re about to retire
Retirement is a good point for an employee to take stock and review their will as it’s likely that since they made it their financial situation will have changed, as well as the lives of their family members. If they only need to make minor changes, they can use a document known as a codicil to specify them, but for more substantial changes it’s advisable to make a completely new will.
So, these are just six of the reasons for employees to make a will and as we’ve shown, putting it off can end up causing unnecessary upset and hardship to family members left behind.
Epoq’s Legal for Life service offers a convenient and easy way for employees to make a will and so protect their loved ones. An online service, Legal for Life includes a range of easy-to-customise will templates, as well as jargon-free legal guides and the option to include lawyer review of documents and a legal helpline.
To find out more about adding Legal for Life to your employee wellbeing programme, please contact us by email or on 020 8731 2424.
Author is Andrew Walker, Commercial Director at Epoq