Ways to view making a Will depending on your stage in life

Cellos at 1/16, 1/8. 1/4, 1/2 and full-size

Yo-Yo Ma began learning cello at age 4 on a 1/16th-size instrument.

(That’s the one at the left-hand-side in the image at the top of this post; the one at the far right is full-sized).

He is probably the most revered cellist in the world. Born in Paris in 1955, his family moved to the U.S. when he was seven. He performed for President Kennedy.

One piece of music has followed him through his whole life.

The Prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite Number 1 in G Major. One of the most famous pieces of music written for cello.

Yo-Yo Ma has recorded the Bach Cello Suites three times: aged 27, 42 and – in 2018 – at age 62.

What has taken him back repeatedly to this piece?

He explains that: “Like a great book that you read several times during your life, each time you read it it’s the same book but you certainly get very different material from the same stories … There is an evolutionary process. There’s no question that, with life experience, as you experience loss and love and tragedy, you are slightly changed and, as a musician, you make your living by being sensitised to these changes and making sure that you are always giving your full self to whatever you’re doing.”

The way Yo-Yo Ma plays the piece has evolved over time, causing him to review his ‘best’ recording of it periodically. Just as the way a musician plays a piece of music varies depending on their stage in life, so there are totally different types of Will that are needed for different types of people and different situations in their lives.

In this article, we’ll look at different stages of life, the considerations that come into play and the types of Will that you might put in place as you go along.

Firstly, we’ll consider the position of younger folk in relation to making a Will. Secondly, we’ll discuss the issues affecting older people. And, finally, we’ll look at a special case where the main consideration is not the person making the Will but a particular type of beneficiary who may inherit and how to cater for them.

So, turning first to Wills for younger persons.

1. Will considerations affecting younger adults.

In Scotland, you can make a Will from age 12.

But it’s more likely to be from the point you get into a lasting relationship or have children that you will consider making a Will for the first time.

A younger person would look at making what might be termed a “basic protection will”.

It’s a simple and straightforward document – almost like a life insurance policy. You might take out insurance to guard against the risk of your premature death so that, with the loss of your earning capacity, the insurance would provide a sum to ease the financial shock for your family. But you hope you’ll never need it.

So it is with a younger person’s Will. You make the Will on the basis that it will never be relied upon. The plan is that you’ll make another Will, many years into the future, to decide how your estate will be divided at the end of your long life.

It’s a thing worth emphasising about Wills.

It should not be a document that you put in place only once in your life. Instead, it’s a document that you are going to come back to review, revise and re-do as your life circumstances change and you need to update it.

The type of document we generally put in place, when we are at a younger stage in our lives, say, with young children is quite a standardised document. It would be one that would leave everything to a spouse or partner. The one would leave everything to the other and vice versa and, if anything happened to both of them, they would appoint trustees to take care of things until the children reached adulthood.

That’s the sort of basic Will you might have in place up to middle-age – until your children are “mature”. That’s when the way you think about your Will may change, as we go on to consider in the next section.

2. Will considerations affecting older adults.

As we get older, we start thinking more about specifics.

About what are we going to do in the longer-term in terms of our estate and who we are going to leave things to.

As we grow older in life, we may reach a point where we have a clearer idea of how we want our property and assets to be passed on after our death. At that time, you may want to put your affairs in order in a Will document that you don’t plan coming back to again.

But everyone is different.

The main thing to remember is that you should feel free to change your Will as often as you like.

A Will is a document you create now, but if you create a Will now it doesn’t do anything immediately. No one acquires any immediate rights as a result. People think that if they put something in the Will they may be creating some absolute right or giving something away to someone. But they’re not.

A will is a confidential document.

It does not leave your solicitor’s office – or certainly not without your permission. Nobody else is aware of what it contains.

The Will does not come into force and has no legal effect as long as you are living.

In a sense, Wills float along with us, in the background, and it’s only if anything were to happen to us that they crystallise and come into effect. The Will as a document does not do anything there and then. It just sits there until it is required.

For older people, a more elaborate form of Will may be appropriate. It tends to be more bespoke and customised for each individual person. This is certainly the case for someone who has accumulated a lot of assets and may want to do some estate planning.

3. A special scenario with its own considerations

Another situation where you would probably need a more detailed and lengthy Will is if there is likely to be a beneficiary who is unable to take care of themselves long-term.

If you have an incapacitated beneficiary – someone who is not able to look after himself or herself – you may need to consider a more elaborate trust-based will.

Particular issues arise for the parent or guardian of a disabled child.

Once the child reaches 16, they may receive a package of means-tested benefits. One of the main concerns for a solicitor in advising a client in such circumstances is to ensure that such means-tested benefits should not be lost. This can easily occur if there is not careful planning.

Many parents with disabled children of any age already appreciate that if they do not make appropriate provision for succession to their estate, the child may gain an absolute right to a sum of money sufficient to disentitle them from receiving further state benefits.

Options available include either a Disabled Beneficiary Trust or a Discretionary Trust. Here, the disabled person can benefit without prejudicing any of the rights or benefits to which they may otherwise be entitled.

Let’s move to a summary of what we’ve covered.

Summary

We’ve seen how a basic Will – an ‘insurance policy’ Will – is enough for most younger people.

As you get older, the likelihood is that your testamentary needs will evolve and you’ll get to a point where you may want a more detailed and comprehensive Will in place.

We also saw how it may be important to have in mind the needs of particular beneficiaries so that your estate is preserved for them as effectively as possible.

As Yo-Yo Ma noted, the big events in life – love, tragedy and loss – leave their mark on us and change us. Musicians need to be aware of these changes and channel them into their performances.

It is no different with making a Will and keeping it under review as you go through life.

The sorts of seismic events that can change you and underline the need for you to review your Will include:

  • Any additions to your family;
  • The death of someone named in your current Will;
  • Receiving a windfall by way of inheritance or otherwise;
  • Suffering a financial disaster; or
  • Any significant change in the rules covering capital taxation.

In ‘digesting’ these events we must not forget to consider whether it’s time to look again at what our current Will says or decide that now is the time to get a Will made for the first time.

How we can help

We hope this has been a useful discussion of some the general principles surrounding making a Will at different stages in life.

If you are thinking of making or reviewing your Will, please feel free to contact us to discuss your requirements and what options might be available. Under the present social conditions, it is perhaps more important than ever that we should ‘sort out our Will’.

We are here to help and we would d be glad to help. All initial enquiries are free of charge and without obligation.

Remember that it may well still be possible for us to take you through the whole process from getting first instructions to signing the Will even though we cannot meet with you face-to-face.

You can phone us on 01343 544077 or you can send us a Free Online Enquiry via this website.

Thank you to the Yo-Yo Ma episode of the wonderful Song Exploder podcast for the inspiration for this post.

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