Why you need a will, with special guest Claire Earwaker dos Reis

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“It is just something that I really enjoy. I really enjoy the more ‘meaty’ cases where people are coming to you and they’re like ‘I just don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to balance this situation, can you help me?’ And you can actually be able to educate them and provide them with solutions that you know are actually going to make a huge difference.”  – Claire Earwaker dos Reis

An introduction to our podcast guest, Claire Earwalker dos Reis

In this episode, with Claire Earwalker dos Reis from Expression Wills, we talk about wills and Estate Planning. Claire is on a mission to make life planning more enjoyable and glamorous – and to help us as a nation come away from being shy about a financial topic that’s so important…wills!

It’s often neglected as a task, but it’s so important.

Claire’s passion is to create a safe space for people to explore their options and voice their concerns without being pushed into making any sort of decision. She believes education comes first in providing people with the right knowledge so that they hold the power to make their own decisions about what is right for them in their family without the pressure of a quick sale. 

She’s passionate about challenging the stereotypes typically associated with the industry and to bring will writing back into the 21st century.

Hopefully there’s a part of you that knows that this is an important subject and that a will is something you should be organising – if you haven’t done so already, or if it’s been a number of years since you last looked at your existing will. You could also tell those you love about this podcast episode, so they can protect their assets as well.

It’s a good idea to gather information on this topic and as a result of this podcast episode, we hope that more of you prioritise getting your wills organised. 

Listen in above, or read on for Sarah’s interview with Claire Earwalker dos Reis from Expression Wills…

How long have you been in the world of wills, Claire?

About four years ago I had just come back from Brazil and I’d been there for three and a half years. I had £4,000 in my bank account, all of my life packed into four suitcases and it was literally a blank canvas. I was like ‘what do I do next? Where do I go from here?’ 

I was married to a Brazilian, he had wanted to do his flight training to become a commercial pilot. It was his dream to be a commercial pilot and we’d put it in our 10 year plan – and we made it happen! So – we’d gone to Brazil, he qualified as a commercial pilot and I had my son. We were there for about three and a half years and when things got a little tough, I knew it was time to go home. So we packed everything up, came back and lived in my dad’s spare bedroom with a two year old.

That’s where it all started.

I’d been applying for part-time jobs and wasn’t really getting anywhere. My sister posted on Facebook that my husband was looking for work. One of her colleagues reached out and said ‘my husband runs a will writing company and is looking to take somebody on board would your brother-in-law be interested’?’ She passed on the message to me. I wasn’t sure it was for him but I knew that I was very interested. I went along to the interview and the rest is history!

I’ve always been in financial legal roles previously and enjoy a sense of giving back and actually making a difference in people’s lives. That’s something that’s always been really important to me. I’ve grown up in a family where charity and giving was a real emphasis. So to be able to find a career that I can work in financial legal services but also provide a real service to people is something that really appealed to me. So it was a perfect job for me and I’ve loved it ever since.

Wills can be a difficult topic but it is just something that I really enjoy – particularly the more ‘meaty’ cases where people are coming to you and they’re saying ‘I just don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to balance this situation. Can you help me?’ I can educate them, and provide them with solutions that are going to make a huge difference to their lives.

What is a will?

A will in the most basic terms is a legal document that determines what happens when you die. So the main crux of a will determines what happens to your assets.

Assets are things like your property, your savings, investments, all of that sort of thing.  It determines exactly what you want to go to who and when, but one of the other really most important things for wills for parents is also making provisions for your children. So not only the financial provisions but also if anything happens to both parents who’s going to look after your children? Where are they going to live? How are they going to be provided for? So there are two main areas, one is actually your assets and the other is also making provision for children.

When should people think about getting a will?

Generally, I’m a real advocate of if you’re over the age of 18 and you have any form of asset, whether it be a small amount of money in the bank then it’s really important to make a will. But obviously, 18 year olds aren’t really going to be thinking about what’s going to happen when they die…

The main trigger points are going to be when you’re buying a property because that’s when you’re requiring a large asset for the first time, that’s a really key area. Also, when you become a parent, that is when your whole life changes. You spend your life wanting to protect your children, you should also make sure that you do that beyond your own life as well.

Other things are changes in relationship status, if you’re starting or winding up a business and so on. Any major life change is really the time that you should be thinking ‘Do I have a will, should I make one?’ Or even if you already have a will then you need to be continually reviewing that over time as well.

I’ve changed my will three or four times in the last four years just through family dynamics and situations. Not everyone needs to review it that regularly but I would definitely say at least every three to five years you should be reading it and making sure that it still aligns with your values and what you want to happen.

What happens if you haven’t made a will?

If you haven’t made a will, then you do run the risk of the decision being in the hands of the courts.

So ultimately, the courts will decide where a child is going to be living. If there’s multiple people that want to take on that role then obviously when a dispute then arises and it goes to submitting petitions.  That is really something you want to avoid and the best way to make sure the right people can take on that role is to make a will because then your wishes are clearly documented and there is no room for dispute. 

Aside from the will you can prepare a separate letter of wishes that explains where you want your child to go to school, how you want them to be educated and how you want their inheritance to be spent. Because you’re not here anymore, so you’re not going to have control over any of that. The only way that you can make sure that your children are protected and provided for is making a will.

How do you make people do it?

It is a difficult decision to make as a lot of people have quite complex family dynamics. 

For example, my mum passed away eleven years ago and my dad’s in his seventies so he’s not really going to be in a position to take on a six year old boy. Both my brothers live abroad and my sister had a new partner with two kids of his own. So I asked myself,  ‘who would look after my son and where would he go?’ But again, that’s why it’s really important to have that will because otherwise he could be left in limbo.

It’s something that’s really difficult to contemplate, you don’t want to contemplate your child growing up without you, but at the same time we cannot predict the future. 

We don’t know what’s going to happen and I think particularly with everything that’s happened with COVID over the last 18 months I think proves that the unexpected can happen at any time.

The more you can take that time to think about this task the better it’s going to be for you and for your family. 

When it comes to guardians, a lot of people pause to think, because it’s sometimes hard to imagine what will be needed for the next 12 years (for example). They ask themselves how they can possibly cover all eventualities. Instead, consider it in bite-sized chunks – what will be the best situation for the next two years? Then revisit again in two years’ time. 

Are wills going to be regulated?

It’s always a topic of conversation and I personally think it’s ridiculous that it’s not. 

If you look up what involves making a will it should be regulated. 

There are huge pitfalls and there’s lots that can go wrong and whilst there’s no official regulation there are voluntary bodies that do offer regulations. There’s the Society of Will Writers, there’s the Institute of Professional Will Writers and there’s another organisation called The Society of Estate Planning Practitioners. When you are looking for a reputable will writing firm it’s good to check if they are members of any of those organisations because there are strict codes of conduct that have to be followed, there is continuous professional development that has to be met.

I’m a full member of The Society of Will Writers and also a member of The Society of Estate Planning Practitioners. So that means that I’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops to be able to say I know what I’m doing, I have got qualifications, I’ve passed exams and then in terms of the client as well they have those organisations to fall back on if things do go wrong or they have complaints.

I would definitely recommend anyone that is searching to do a will that you make sure that the will writer is part of a voluntary organisation that can provide a little bit more security.

There are a lot of people who think that because it’s unregulated they can just write their will down on a piece of paper which doesn’t form a valid will. It is really important to get the right advice from the right people, advice from people with the right qualifications and experience and that they really understand what they’re doing.

How much does it cost?

It varies depending on your individual situation. If you are looking at a basic will from a professional it could be anything between £150 to £300. 

That just covers the basics, and that means you’ve appointed somebody who’s going to manage everything and carry out the process on your behalf – you’ve distributed your estate, you’ve made provision for your children etc.

What are the different types of wills?

There are lots of marketing terms.

Mirror Wills are essentially a term that’s used for couples, essentially they are separate legal documents, but, quite often, the couples wishes are very similar so the contents are essentially the same – that’s why they are called a Mirror Will.

For example, most often, if anything happens to one partner everything goes to the surviving partner. If anything happens to both of them, it goes equally between the children and if anything happens to the whole family then it goes 50% to one side of the family and 50% to the other side of the family. The reason it’s called a Mirror Will is because both documents reflect each other, but they are separate documents.

Some of the other marketing terms that you might hear include a Property Protection Trust which is quite often used to protect part of your home from things like remarriage, long-term care fees, creditors – that sort of thing. That’s slightly more complex and that’s going aside from a basic will, and is then going into Trust and Asset Protection Strategies. That’s quite commonly used for a blended family situation where you want to provide for your partner but you also want to protect your assets for your own children.

Bloodline Wills is protecting assets for longer term future generations. 

They are all marketing terms though so ultimately a will is a will and then anything that’s added on top of that is where the other terms come in – but that’s where you need to seek professional advice.

We will take you through the finances, through your family situation and ultimately give you advice as the best solution for you.

How long does it take to get a will?

It very much depends on you – the process can be as quick or as slow as you want it to be.

Generally, an initial consultation will take between 30 to 90 minutes where we talk you through your finances, we talk through your situation and what your wishes actually are. 

Some people are able to make decisions there and then, we then take instructions and start drafting. Whereas other people need a bit of time to think about it, talk it through with their family and then provide their final instructions. That can be through a second appointment or we can follow up on email and phone afterwards. We’re not going to put any undue pressure on you because you need to be sure that the decisions that you’re making are the right ones. Once we’ve got those instructions we can then proceed to start preparing draft documents for you.

Do you do wills over Zoom?

Zoom has been a great tool in terms of being able to continue doing our job during the pandemic, but when it comes to the older generation and the more vulnerable clients it’s actually really important that we meet with them face to face where possible, because we need to be able to check that they’re not being influenced by anyone and that they’re not being put under pressure to write something in their will against their wishes.

We have a professional obligation to carry out capacity checks to make sure that they have mental capacity and that they are able to make a will and that they really understand everything. 

Sometimes that’s all difficult to do over zoom because you don’t really get the same feel as face to face appointments.

What about Probate?

Some will writers carry out probate services as well. I don’t, but I can assist with recommendations.

It is a task that individuals appointed as Executors can also carry out themselves but depending on the situation it might be appropriate to at least get some advice from a probate professional to understand exactly what the next steps are and whether it would make more sense for you to engage a probate professional to carry out the role.

What about tax?

With inheritance tax there are various exemption reliefs. 

With inheritance tax allowances some have been frozen for a very long time which means that more and more people are potentially going to be having inheritance tax liability.

A reminder here of the importance of seeking the right advice.

Ultimately it all very much depends on the value of your assets, the types of your assets as to whether you are going to have to pay or your estate is going to have to pay inheritance tax or whether there will be any options available to you to try and reduce that as much as possible.

Everything is a bit of a balancing act when it comes to inheritance tax planning. Although on the one hand, you might save inheritance tax, on the other hand you might have a bit more restriction or when it involves Trusts. 

What does ‘putting a will in trust’ mean?

A trust is a way of ring fencing your assets so that people can benefit from the assets but the legal ownership doesn’t necessarily lie with them. 

It’s a way of protecting and controlling those assets to ensure a trust. 

A trust can sometimes be used for inheritance tax planning but sometimes it can be used purely for protection. 

So if you’ve got a beneficiary that might not be very good with money you might not necessarily want them to inherit your estate. For example, you’ve got £500,000 in your estate and you wouldn’t necessarily want them to have £500,000 sitting in their bank account that they could gamble or anything like that. A trust allows you to add in some protection, so although that person can benefit from the funds, the trustees will look after the funds. Therefore, with a little bit of protection and control, the funds are only applied for things that will benefit that person. The earliest age a person can legally take control of their own funds is 18. 

That can be another reason to make a will. Particularly for those with sizable estates, you’re not necessarily going to want them to have all that money at 18 – whereas you can specify in your will that they have at (for example) 21, 25 and by that time they’re more finance savvy, but it still means that they can pay for university fees, go on holiday etc –  it just means that they’ve got the full back of the trustees.

Why do you love your job?

Every client is different. They come to me for various reasons and circumstances, perhaps they haven’t wanted to face their situation due to a family fall out or a person’s mental health situation, or their gambling addictions.  I’ve dealt with many different circumstances over the years. It’s challenging but rewarding to be able to find the right solutions for those people so that they can rest easy at night, knowing that everyone is looked after and that everything is clearly documented.

What is the bit you love most about it? 

I love talking to people, I like listening to people’s stories and I like being presented with a challenge and being able to find a solution. 

I particularly love helping the older clients where I know that the will is actually going to be needed much sooner and knowing that having helped the client through this, and is actually making a difference to their lives. 

The opposite end of that is the sad part, when you get to really know a client and receive that phone call to say they have passed away – I never quite get used to that.

What is the biggest lesson that you have learned in your life so far? 

Always trust your instinct. 

I have had lots of situations where I’ve probably spent a little while debating what’s the right thing to do, when actually in my heart of hearts, I’ve always known what the right thing is to do.

I have experienced hardship but I’ve learned to be able to reframe those and to see it in the way of ‘well if that didn’t happen then I wouldn’t have gone on to this next stage’.

You’re in control of your own life and many of us get really bogged down with things that happen to us. I’m a real believer in visualisation and manifestation. You are in control of everything that happens to you so if you want to make something happen you can absolutely make it happen.

Where are you based for those who do want to get in touch with you?

We have offices based in London and Milton Keynes, but we do cover a wide area in the UK. 

I love talking about wills so if anyone just has any questions or wants any advice I would be more than happy to have a chat.

We have a Facebook page which is Expression Wills and our website is www.expressionwills.co.uk. You can also find me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/claireedreis. 

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Thank you to Claire Earwalker dos Reis of Expression Wills for joining Sarah Tucker on The Mortgage Mum Podcast for this insightful podcast episode.

Listen to The Mortgage Mum Podcast on all major podcast directories including Apple and Spotify. You can also catch up on previous episodes on our website and on The Mortgage Mum YouTube channel.