/ Money

Why aren’t parents making Wills?

Writing will on a typewriter

A Will isn’t only important for passing things on, it decides who looks after your children. So why do many people give little thought to making a Will and why does it appear as one of the last things on the ‘to-do list’?

People will often say ‘I don’t have time’, ‘this is too morbid’, ‘it’s too complicated’ or ‘I’ve got nothing worth leaving’. I understand why people might not want to make a Will, but more focus should be given to why you should make a Will than why you should not.

And it seems that more men are hiding from the issue, with 18% of men telling us that they found the idea of dying ‘too morbid’ to deal with, compared with only 6% of women.

Looking after the kids

I work in the Which? Wills team and while I get it’s not something you’d want to spend time thinking about, especially when you’re young, I was surprised to hear the results of our latest survey. Only a quarter of parents with children below 10-years-old had made a Will.

We found many parents think a Will is only important if they have assets to pass on, but a Will can also be used to stipulate who should become their children’s guardian should something happen to them.

Naming guardians in a Will means that the well-being and best interests of your children will be safeguarded. You can be safe in the knowledge that they’ll be raised in a manner and environment you approve of.

Dying without a Will

And I’m sure it goes without saying that you wouldn’t want your possessions left to someone you never knew or firmly disliked. But that’s exactly what could happen if you die without a Will. Unless you use a Will to specify who you’d like to benefit and how, your estate (what you own) will be given out based on the ‘intestacy rules’.

Plus, dying without a Will can make the whole process far longer and harder on your loved ones. Often it means a relative will have to apply to ‘administer the estate’ and distribute the belongings themselves. A will allows executors to be selected who are considered to have the necessary skills, including being reliable and trustworthy.

Surely there are more reasons to write a Will than not, especially if you have kids.

Have you written a Will, or are you putting it off? If you have made a Will, did you find the process difficult?


There are a lot of situations where people lose their lives but are survived by their children as minors, yet I think the whole issue of planning for guardianship is just too painful to think about, so it gets deferred or not even contemplated. This element of will-making is rarely raised yet it is far more important than property and chattels really.

It is probable that a significant proportion of parents are put off by their fear of the costs of making a will. In fact the process, even if employing a solicitor, is not particularly expensive and neither is it difficult, although it does require some serious thinking and resolution. But people might not see it as an economical and straightforward process; as an expenditure priority it ranks lower than holidays, entertainment, pets, phones, television, and computers. Objective education and guidance needs to be available to people – not the smarmy adverts from the legal profession and the para-legals.

I don’t know who should be taking parents to one side and asking them, in the interests of their children, whether they have thought about future responsibility for the children in the event of the parents’ untimely death and the advantages of making a will. Some grandparents might feel up to it. Perhaps other family members could broach it. But it’s a pretty untouchable subject I should think in many cases. Some might say that doctors’ surgeries should put up an informative poster and have some leaflets available. Has it ever been raised in soap operas or popular dramas? I should be interested to read how Ann thinks the message can be put across effectively. I’ve been a Which? subscriber for fifty years but I never knew it had a ‘wills team’ and now I am curious to know what it does and what has been its contribution to encouraging people to recognise the importance of having a will and doing something about it. There are good causes and charities for just about every circumstance and condition these days but I wonder if there is one dedicated to helping people to make a will, both with practical advice and support and also to relieve the costs of having a will drawn up professionally.

Having dealt with a few estates in my time, both with wills and without, I can truly vouch for the fact that the existence of a valid will makes the settlement of all the deceased’s affairs so much easier, and is much more beneficial for any dependants, and that the absence of a will can make the whole process incredibly fraught with all manner of speculations, interpretations, misunderstandings, and disharmony within the family. The beauty of a will is that it is conclusive, brooks no argument, and generally settles things clearly, and for the future welfare of children those are valuable attributes that, in my view, it is morally indefensible, and possibly irresponsible and negligent, to deny them.

I am not surprised at the attitude of fathers compared to mothers’ greater willingness to do something; if the father funks it then the mother will probably not wish to struggle with it on her own. Men – it’s time to do your duty: put your children’s interests first.

With Mothers Day coming up [and Fathers Day a few months later] it’s a good time to put this issue on the national agenda.

Jim S says:
28 February 2015

A very useful synopsis. I have struggled for some 12 years to get my daughter and son in law to write their Will which they did and signed recently. They have three children and now 2 houses. The excuse was a sister lived in Australia and Grandparents are too old(!), while other relatives were not in a financial position to help if both parents were killed (or died very close in ‘Time’ to each other,

Gabrielle Shepstone says:
24 February 2015

I am continually surprised that so many people have such a problem with making a will – most people are happy to have insurance against the possible chance of undesirable events such as a fire or burglary, despite the cost of this, yet refuse to plan for something that is inevitable at some stage even though this will be of great benefit to those they leave behind.
I have had a will since I first owned property of any value, and have updated it at every life stage – currently we are doing this again as our children have now outgrown the guardianship and trust arrangements made when they were young, and will now become our executors.
Make the effort, draw up a will, and enjoy peace of mind!

We have made wills since we had children. Prior to that we had no net assets to speak of. And yes you need to up-date as family members and friends drop off their perch, and children cliam to be adults!

One great spur I think is having a relative or more likely a sibling who one loathes. I think it activates men wonderfully to realise a loathed relative might benefit : )

The other thing is if men have a passion for something and amass a collection they will normally have a friend whom they rather see receive it from the estate than it be sold off and dispersed.

I haven’t made a will yet. I don’t feel any pressure to make one because, from what I understand of the intestacy rules, they would result in my estate being distributed exactly how I would want it to be distributed anyway.

I think this Conversation is more about using a will to make adequate arrangements for the guardianship of minors. For many people the intestacy rules might be fine for the distribution of the estate but they do not determine who will be the guardian; rather than leaving it to chance or the state, a will is an effective and inexpensive way of documenting the parents’ wishes and obviating uncertainty, indecision, disagreement and, possibly, unsuitability of guardianship.

Thanks for pointing this out, John. My children are over 18 so I didn’t pay attention to most of what the article was about as it didn’t affect me. In the case that you mention, I can see that a will could be important.

I very strongly urge anyone who owns property or has significant assets to make a will. The complications that can ensue, with horrendous legal costs, can be unimaginable. Clint and others please don’t assume you know or understand the consequences of dying intestate.
A neighbour of ours died a few years ago, unfortunately their spouse died two days later. There was no will and no dispute amongst the three beneficiaries but it took 3 years to settle probate. With solicitors costs at around £250 per hour the legal fees must have taken a huge percentage of the estate.
In another case I know of the will was badly written, the property was left jointly between the beneficiaries with the surviving spouse able to live in the house until death. There is also a sitting tenant in part of the property. The beneficiaries cannot agree what to do with the property when the spouse dies. One of them has had a severe stroke and may not be able to make a coherent decision.
Whatever service you use, do make a will. Our choice was to take advice from solicitors and pay to have the wills prepared: the cost may seem significant but when weighed against potential costs they are small.

A further point Jonny, in the case of a survivor being allowed to continue to live in the property until their own death, is that a solicitor would probably ensure that the will establishes a proper trust with partners of the practice appointed to act as trustees in the event of the incapacity or pre-decease of the remaining beneficiaries. As you rightly say, leaving property where more than one person inherits [or occupies] it is fraught with complications that need careful consideration and exposition to avoid disputes at a later date.