- August 8, 2019
- Bob Quinn
This question appeared in last weekend’s Sunday Independent.
Q. When’s a good time to make a will? We’ve been putting it off since we pledged to do so after the birth of our first child and now our third has come along and we’re still no further down that road, even though it’s clearly something that has become even more urgent. Our impression that wills are fairly hard to change as wider family circumstances also change is putting us off but is that correct? Also we’re still not sure who could take custody of our children if we got run over by a bus tomorrow, yet I’d rather not leave that agonising decision to the family afterwards. Any thoughts appreciated.
A. Put simply, there is never a bad time to make a will. The reader is reluctant to make a will because he or she doesn’t know what lies ahead, but rather than try to see into a crystal ball, the best advice is to write a will for now (according to a recent Merrill survey, the best time to do this is before your 50th birthday) What would they like to happen if that bus came for them tomorrow? They should then adjust the will as their circumstances change. It is not difficult by any means. In fact, solicitors and indeed some financial planners can play a useful role beyond assuring the legal standing of the document, because they have the ability to see our circumstances as an outsider and can ask great questions prompting us to consider eventualities we may not have.
Indecision is crippling
Indecision as to whom to appoint as a legal guardian should not stop this couple from making a will. It can always be altered, whereas the unintended consequences of doing nothing are that the courts will step in and decide. This is now urgent, as the reader acknowledges.
They should be as prescriptive as they can about their wishes. Leaving their three children to ‘sort it out between themselves’ for example, is a bad idea. Being precise avoids squabbles that can have far-reaching effects. It helps bereaved families to know “it’s what Mam would have wanted”.
Careful how you divide your assets
When it comes to leaving assets to those children, and indeed any of their beneficiaries, the couple should approach it from the perspective that fair is not always equal. If they are a farming family, for example, dividing the farm into three equal parcels could result in three unviable farms. They should be aware that giving different assets of equal value can lead to huge inequality.
Let’s say they bequeath the family home worth €600k to one child, €600k in cash to the second and €600k in shares and investments to the third. In a financial crash, the share portfolio could lose value overnight, the house could halve in value, but the cash will retain its value more or less. It is hard to think of these eventualities when the children are small, and that’s where a third party like a solicitor or financial planner can be useful.
Schedule 30 minutes with me to discuss getting your affairs in order – and remember – there’s never a bad time to do this, but doing nothing is the worst option available.