So you’ve started writing a will, but you are looking at your assets and looking around your house and wondering what property you need to include. Don’t worry; we will explain all of the property you need to cover in your will and how to handle bequests.
Your will should cover all property that is solely owned by you. This includes:
You can also bequeath items of sentimental value that you want certain people to have. It is important to note that any property that is jointly owned is subject to the right of survivorship. This means that your share will automatically pass to the other joint owner(s). The right of survivorship overrides any attempts to bequest your share in your will. In the UK, a married couple does not automatically jointly own their marital home unless it is in the name of both spouses.
If you are looking at your list of assets and dreading having to name an inheritor for every single one, don’t worry, you don’t have to. You can name an inheritor for things you want to go to specific people and then make provisions for your “residuary estate.” Residuary estate is the legal term for everything else that I haven’t mentioned in the will. So, you can make provisions for certain sums of money and property to be given to certain people and then name a beneficiary of the residuary estate.
Most people do this to leave the majority of things to their spouse but allocate certain things to other friends and family. It makes it much easier than having to list every asset and item of value in the will. We recommend you still make a list of your assets while preparing to write your will so you can make specific bequests. Bequests ensure that your property goes to the people you want it to. You cannot expect your spouse or family members to remember a conversation you had years ago about wanting your best friend to inherit your stamp collection or your lovingly restored vintage car. And even if they do, you cannot guarantee they will honour those wishes. By bequeathing the vintage car in your will, you ensure that it legally becomes the property of the person you want and it isn’t sold by a family member to help pay off their mortgage.
The property you do not mention in your will makes up your residuary estate. The residuary estate is everything that is left over once all the things mentioned in your will have been bequeathed and all debts and any estate fees and taxes have been taken care of.
Important assets like your family home or large assets should not be included in the residuary estate, especially if you do intend them to go to someone. Let’s say the home you share with your spouse is in your name only. You make the decision to name them as the beneficiary of your residual estate instead of specifically naming them as the inheritor of the home because you want them to have everything of yours that you have not specifically bequeathed. If when you die your assets are different than what you expected or you have a lot more debt than expected, your home may be sold in order to make the cash gifts in your will or to pay down the debts you owe. If you specifically name your spouse as the inheritor of that property, then the money will come from elsewhere in the residuary estate.
The purpose of the residuary estate is to deal with smaller pieces of property, like furniture, clothing, a car that isn’t worth all that much, or assets that you own between writing your will and dying. Therefore, all real estate assets should be bequeathed, not left as residuary estate.