Your Will needs to set out what you want to happen to your worldly goods (‘your estate’) after you have died. But it also needs to mention several key people, and the terms used for those people can be confusing. Here, I set out the main roles of those who you will usually need to include in your Will.
Your executors have the legal authority to act on the instructions in your Will after you have died. They have the job of paying any final bills from your estate, then distributing the rest of your estate to your beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of your Will. Your executors can be beneficiaries, too. A common scenario for a married couple is to appoint their husband or wife to be their executor and leave everything to them as beneficiaries.
It is sensible to appoint a second executor to act in case your original choice of executor dies before you, or is otherwise unable to act. They are called a Substitute Executor
If you have any children under the age of 18, you should appoint a guardian for them under your will. In the event of your death, your appointed guardian would automatically have “parental responsibility” for your children, if there was nobody else alive with Parental Responsibility. Parental Responsibility is the term given to the legal rights and responsibilities that a parent has towards a child – so your guardian would be able to make decisions for your child such as where they will live and what school they will attend. They can also consent to medical treatment and apply for a passport for your child.
If any part of your estate needs to be protected for a beneficiary for any length of time, it will need to be looked after by trustees. A common example of this would be if you want your young children to inherit your estate. Children cannot legally receive their inheritance until they reach the age of 18, though many parents prefer to specify that their children can only inherit once they reach 21 or 25, for example. In the meantime, that money or property has to be properly invested and taken care of – that’s the job of your trustees. Ideally, you should choose two trustees, and they should be people you know will look after the best interests of your beneficiaries. A trustee can also be your executor, and they can also be a beneficiary as long as:
– there is another trustee who is not a beneficiary, and
– the trust relates to more beneficiaries besides just them.
Your beneficiaries are the people you wish to benefit from your Will. You can name specific people as beneficiaries, or you can describe them as a group of people. For example, you can say that you want to leave something to your grandson, Joe Smith, or you can say that you want to leave it to your grandchildren who are living at the time of your death. This last option is often preferred because you wouldn’t have to update your Will if more grandchildren were born after your Will was prepared.
It is a good idea to think about who your beneficiaries would be in a ‘worst-case-scenario’, i.e. if all of your immediate family were to die before you, who would you want to receive your estate?
On a final note: if any of the people named in your will in any capacity change address after you have written your will, you don’t usually need to update your will. As long as they can be identified, they will be able to act and/or inherit as you have instructed in your will.