At what age do you have the right to decide what happens to your body after death?

And why is a Will so important even when you are young?

Will you must be 18 (or 16 if you are in the armed forces), but most people think that this is a pastime for the elderly.

The recent case heard by Mr Justice Peter Jackson of a girl who wanted her body to be cryogenically preserved after her death was not really about cryogenics at all. The case was really about who has the right to decide what happens to a body after death.

In this case the girl in question was only 14 and could not make a Will, so both parents had the right to decide, but could not agree. If she had been 18 then she could have made a Will specifying what was to happen to her body on her death and this would have saved what was both an emotionally and financially expensive High Court action. 

The case highlights the importance of having a Will, even when you have no assets to give away.

So why is making a Will so important even when you are young?

To make a Will you must be 18 (or 16 if you are in the armed forces), but most people think that this is a pastime for the elderly. 

If you do not have a Will, then the state decides who is entitled to your estate under the ‘rules of intestacy’: if you are not married, and not in a civil partnership, this is likely to be your nearest blood relative.   

There are many good reasons for making a Will when you are young. You do not have to have financial assets – you might have an unmarried partner, a child, a pet, some treasured possessions, or just one very absent parent.

  1. If you were brought up by one parent with no help from the other, do you want to save the parent who brought you up from the pain of having the other one turn up and claim his or her half share, and fight over what sort of funeral you have?
  2. You might want to decide what type of funeral you want – what suits your parents’ generation might not suit you.
  3. If you are living with someone as a couple (but not married) then your partner will not inherit anything of yours on your death. There is no such thing as a ‘common-law’ marriage.        
  4. If you own a property together then it is important to know whether you own it as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’. If you are joint tenants then the survivor owns it outright on your death, but if you are tenants in common then your parents, for example, would own your share jointly with your partner.
  5. If you have a child, then you can appoint a guardian who will look after him or her if both parents die, which may save a lot of family arguments.
  6. If you have a pet, who do you want to care for it?
  7. If you have some jewellery, sporting equipment, or musical instruments, for example, you may have a friend with similar interests who you would want to have them.
  8. If you do have some financial assets, would you prefer your brothers and sisters to inherit, rather than your parents? Some parents of adult children are already moving assets into their children’s names and they certainly do not want them back again!

So, eight important reasons for making a Will when young – and it also gets it over with!

Do contact me if you would like a more detailed discussion or advice – whether young or older.

Author:  Anne Dickens

Chartered Legal Executive

St Neots Office – 01480 702207

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.