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Martin Lewis' wills advice

Our Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis says, sometimes we need to be candid, plain, blunt and unemotional. Unpleasant issues happen and you need to plan for them. This month is the start of free wills month, that and thinking about a power of attorney in case you lose your faculties are crucial conversations we all need to have.

Q. Free wills month, is it one we can trust though?

Martin: Making a will can be costly. The gold standard is a solicitor drafted will and can cost around £150 or more to make. There’s full help in Martin’s ‘Free and cheap wills’guide running through all the options. But there’s a couple of things to be aware of right now…

October is Free Wills month where if you’re over 55 (or if you’re a couple one of you is) then solicitors in over 40 locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will draft a will for you for free. Enter your postcode on the Free Wills Month websiteand call to book an appointment with one of the solicitors that are participating nearby. They tend to get busy so do this early, and you don't have to live in one of these areas to qualify, but you will be expected to travel to the solicitor's office for your appointment.

This is a charity-backed scheme and charities pay for the solicitors' time, so be prepared for your solicitor to ask you to consider making a bequest to a charity in your will (leaving it something when you die).

It's hoped you will in return for using the scheme, but you're under no obligation. Perhaps a good minimum is leaving enough that would cover the solicitors’ fees normally – typically £100 - £150 though of course more is fine. There’s a range of charities to choose from including British Heart Foundation, British Legion, Mencap, Guide Dogs and Diabetes UK.

Next month, November, is Will Aid, which is larger, open to all ages, and is across the UK, including Scotland. The website (or call 0300 0309 558) lets you chose a solicitor to call and book an appointment with, though do tell it you’re calling as part of the Will Aid scheme. Here solicitors give their time in the hope you’ll make a donation there and then to one of nine charities they support including Action Aid, NSPCC and the British Red Cross.

The donation requested – is £95 (£150 for couples) which you can make online before your appointment, though do print out the receipt and take with you to the solicitors to show you’ve made it. If you can’t afford it, you can give less, don’t game it though as it is a charity event.

There are alternative ways; Which? Wills has a service where you fill in a form online and it then gets it checked by a para legal – do check for discount codes online if you’re doing this. Alternatively, if you’vea straightforward will and are confident making a legal document, you can make one yourself online. The Lawpack provides decent templates from £22, and the free legal advice site Compact Law has some free-to-download basic templates.

Q. Who needs a will?

Martin: A will is a legal document that lets you set out now, while you’re still alive, what you want to happen to your finances and assets when you die. Die will-less and your affairs can be in limbo for years – and the state has strict rule of intestacy which dictates how your money is disbursed. To find out this situation for you, use the calculator on the Gov’s site. So whatever your age, if you've assets eg, a house, savings, or a business, and people or others you'd like to look after, consider making a will.

This is even more important if you live with your partner but aren’t married or in a civil partnership. Your partner has no status under law – if you die they may not get the house or even the kids – even if you've been together 37 years and have 6 children. So it’s worth checking out. Equally if you are married but have children from a previous marriage – they may get less than you expect.

Q. You also mention a Power of Attorney - are these worth bothering with?

Martin. Yes. In some ways I’d argue this is more important than a will. After all if you die then you’re gone, but if you lose your faculties through say a stroke or dementia (1in3 people develop this), don’t assume relatives can walk into the bank and access your money – not even if it’s just to pay for your care.

If you’re not prepared, and your family have to take charge of your affairs, they will need to apply to take over via the Court of Protection.

This is a nightmare for many families that can drag on for many months, with costs that can be in the £1,000s. I hear many horror stories like Norma who said: “My Mum is deputy (via the Court of Protection) to my Dad, who has advanced dementia. It's a very long, drawn out and quite intrusive process. It's also expensive. Mum will have to pay hefty yearly fees too. I just wish we'd managed to get Power of Attorney instead, when Dad was more capable. He got ill very fast and we couldn't implement it.”

Getting a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) now while you have the mental capacity, where you nominate a trusted friend or relative to look after your affairs, will avoid chaotic situations later down the line. This doesn’t mean you’re giving up control now. You can choose for it only to come into effect when you’re no longer capable. I’ve got one and I’m 45.

For simple financial affairs, you can set one up yourself by filling in the online form for England and Wales, £82 fee, for Scotland it costs £77, and forNorthern Ireland it costs £127. Yet if you’ve more complex financial affairs I’d get a solicitor to set one up for you properly. It’ll cost around £700ish all in and you can use the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor tool, to find a solicitor near you. There’s also good info on the Alzheimer’s Society website and Which?Legal services again has a decent half way house option where you answer questions then a para legal Looks over it.

You can also get a separate LPA specifically for health decisions, such as medical care and your daily care routine, should you be unable to.

Also, on that, if you already have one set up in England or Wales between April 2013 and March 2017, you may have overpaid the fees, and may be due a refund of up to £54. To check and claim a refund visit the Gov website or phone the Office of the Public Guardian's helpline on 0300 456 0300.

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