Writing a will is one of the most important things you can do. A will is a legal document which lets you decide what happens to your property and money after your death. When you pass away, your will can have a huge impact on your loved ones. Without a will, the law will decide who your possessions and assets will go to. We know that making a will can be a daunting prospect, but this needn't be the case. We'll explain everything that you need to know about making a will, from putting your document together to storing it properly.
What is a Will and Why is it Important?
A will is a legal document which allows you to distribute your money, property, and other possessions among your loved ones after you pass away. If you have dependent children, your will also determines who will look after them. No matter how much money or property you have, or whether you have children under 18, making a will could not be more important.
Over 70% of people in the UK below the age of 64 have not yet drawn up their last will and testament. A greater number of over 65s possess a will – but still over 40% haven’t yet obtained one. Some people don’t feel they have enough to leave – others prefer not to contemplate the future.
What Happens if I Don't Have a Will?
When someone dies without a will, their estate may not go to the people they would have wanted it to. Alternatively, it could get stuck in limbo for several years. This can place a great emotional and financial strain on your loved ones in an already stressful time. Other reasons why it is important to make a will include:
- Without a will, your partner cannot inherit anything from you if you're not married or in a civil partnership.
- With a will, it is possible to reduce the amount of tax payable on the inheritance.
- You can state your specific funeral plans in your will.
- Crucially, you can choose who will look after your children or step-children if they are under the age of 18.
- You can decide what should happen to any family pets.
Can You Write Your Own Will?
When it comes to writing your will, you have a few options. You can consult a solicitor, use a will writing service, or write your will yourself.
Writing a will yourself is the cheapest option, but it's also the riskiest. If you do anything wrong, your will might be invalid. Generally, you should only consider doing it yourself if your affairs are very simple. If you have a more complex situation including ex-partners or expensive properties, for example, we'd advise going to a solicitor.
When making a will, you should consider every eventuality - for example, what if one of your beneficiaries passes away before you do? These possibilities can make the process of writing a will a little confusing. This is why lots of people choose to use a will writing service or hire a solicitor.
How to Write Your Will
Before selecting a service or solicitor, we would advise shopping around, getting a few quotes and reading online reviews about the firm. When you start putting your document together, you need to make sure that you have outlined:
- What you own: money, property, and any possessions. This is called your estate.
- Your beneficiaries. These are the people you want to inherit your estate.
- Who will look after your children or step-children, if they are under 18.
- Who you would like to sort out your estate and carry out any wishes after you've died. (These people are called executors.)
- What happens if any of your beneficiaries die before you do.
The first step in making a will is valuing your estate. You should draw up a list of assets and debts. Assets commonly include your home and any other property that you own, savings in banks and building society accounts, insurance, pension funds, savings and bonds, vehicles, stocks and shares, furniture and jewellery. Debts may include your mortgage, any loans, bank overdrafts and your credit card balance.
After you've accounted for all the assets and debts above, you should start thinking about who you would like to leave things to. For example, you can choose to divide your estate between multiple people in different proportions; half to your spouse and a quarter each to your two children, for example.
Be aware that, according to Money Saving Expert, the people you select do not have to accept anything that you leave them. If a person disclaims a bequest, it goes in with the residue of the estate. This is dealt with under the residuary clause in the document.
Next up are the executors. These are the people who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. It will be down to them to collect all of the assets of the estate, deal with any paperwork and pay any debts, taxes, funeral and administration costs, using money from your estate. They will also need to pay out the gifts and transfer any property to the other beneficiaries.
It is advisable to choose more than one executor, just in case anything happens to one of them. You can choose up to four people to be your executors; these are usually:
- Family members.
- Close friends.
- A Public Trustee if nobody else is willing to act.
Choosing your executors is extremely important and you think carefully before making a decision. You should always approach anyone you are thinking of appointing as an executor to see if they will agree to take on the responsibility. If someone you appoint is not willing to be an executor, they have a right to refuse.
Ensuring that your Will is Legal
For your will to be legal and valid, you need to sign it in front of two witnesses. Those witnesses must also sign the will document. Neither your witnesses nor their spouses or civil partners can benefit from your will in any way. In other words, they need to be neutral.
As of January 2020, wills witnessed remotely via video link are legal in England and Wales. This is a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing.
If you can’t sign the will, someone else can sign on your behalf, as long as you’re in the room and it is signed at your direction. However, you must have the mental capacity to make the will. Otherwise the document is invalid.
Citizens Advice outlines the following criteria for your document to be valid:
- It must be made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person.
- It must be made by a person who is fully aware of the nature of such a document being written or signed.
- The person writing the will needs to be aware of the property and the identity of the people who may inherit.
- Although it will be legally valid even if it is not dated, it is advisable to ensure that the document includes the date on which it is signed.
As soon as you and your witnesses have signed the document, the will is complete.
How Much Does Making a Will Cost?
The cost of making a will can vary greatly depending on how complicated the will is and whether you use a solicitor, service, or write it yourself. However, there are plenty of groups out there which provide free wills for qualifying individuals. Several trade unions, such as the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Fire Brigades Union, offer free or heavily discounted will-writing services to their members.
If you have legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, that may also include a will service. Therefore, it's worth checking your policy.
Several charities also offer will-writing schemes, provided by solicitors, which are usually completely free. In return, they will hope that you make a donation (either then or in your will).
One such example is the Free Wills Month charity. Every March and October, they can help people across the UK write or update their will if they are over 55.
After making a will, you will need to keep the document in a safe and secure location where your executors can access it. The majority of solicitors will store your will for free if you made the will through them. On the other hand, will writers will commonly charge a one-off fee.
Alternately, you can store your will with your bank or another company which offers will storage. You can also choose to store your will in a secure location within your home. Your will needs to be kept in pristine condition, as any marks may call the will's validity into question. Similarly, never attach anything to your will document using staples or paperclips. Finally, make sure to tell your executors where to find your will.
Updating your Will
According to experts, you should review your will every five years or after any major changes in your life. Such changes could include:
- Getting married - which cancels out any will you had previously made.
- Getting a divorce or separating from your partner.
- Having a child.
- Moving to a new house.
- If the executor dies.
To make any official changes to your will, you will need to sign a document known as a codicil in front of witnesses. The codicil supplement will make some alterations to your will while leaving the rest of the document intact. The witnesses do not have to be the same as those for the original will.
Although there is no limit on the number of codicils you can add, they are only suitable for straightforward changes. If there are any complicated changes to make, it is usually better to make a new will.
The new will must explain clearly that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. Finally, you must destroy any previous wills, leaving only the new one intact.
Peace of Mind
No one likes to think about it, but making a will can give you great peace of mind. If you haven't made one already, we'd urge you to write your will sooner rather than later.
Similarly, if you're looking for peace of mind in your home, a Lifeline alarm could be the perfect solution. Our personal alarms help thousands of elderly and disabled people live safely and independently in their own homes. For more information about our service, please get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 19th July 2021 to reflect current information.