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How to make a will

Having a will in place lets you decide what happens to your property, money and belongings after you die.

If you don’t have a will, the law decides who gets what. You may also be unable to make use of inheritance tax exemptions.

Here, we explain:

5 reasons why you should make a will

What happens if you die without a will?

What should you include in a will?

How to write a will

When to write a will

5 reasons why you should make a will

Protecting those we care about is something we do naturally during our lifetime. Putting a will in place is a way to carry on protecting them after we’re gone.

Here are our top 5 reasons for making a will:

  1. You get to decide exactly how and when your estate will be shared out – that is, who gets what share of your property, money and possessions.

  2. You may be able to use a will to help manage the amount of inheritance tax payable on the property, money and any possessions you leave behind.

  3. You can save your family the additional stress of having to deal with uncertainty at what is already an emotional and difficult time.

  4. If you have young children, you can choose someone to be their legal guardian to look after them until they’re 18 and ensure there are funds to help.

  5. You can make clear whether you’d like to be buried or cremated and any other wishes you may have for your funeral.

What happens if you die without a will?

If you were to die without a valid will in place, your estate would be shared out under certain rules – known as ‘intestacy rules’. The law decides who should deal with your affairs and who gets to inherit what. This could be different from your own wishes.

While the intestacy rules vary across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, these broad principles apply throughout the UK:

  • if you live with a partner but are not married or in a civil partnership, they might not be legally entitled to anything

  • if you’re married or in a civil partnership, your partner might get everything and your children nothing – or your partner might not get everything you think they will

  • if you have children or grandchildren, how much they are legally entitled to will vary, depending on where you live in the UK

  • if you have children or grandchildren from a previous relationship, they may not receive anything

  • if you have no spouse, civil partner or children, your estate would go to your parents – or your siblings if your parents have died

  • if you have no close living relatives, it would go to HM Treasury on behalf of the Crown

The only way to make sure your wishes are met after you die, is to create a legally-binding will. This is true for everyone, but is especially important if you have people who depend on you financially, or if you want to leave things to people outside your family.

What should you include in a will?

When making a will, you should consider:

How much money and what property and possessions you have

This includes your home, bank accounts, savings, investments, life insurance policies and defined contribution pensions, as well as cars, furniture, jewellery or antiques. 

Who you’d like to leave money or your possessions to

These people are known as your beneficiaries. It’s also worth considering what you’d like to happen if any of your beneficiaries were to die before you and whether you want to leave any money to charity. 

Who you’d like to look after your children

This applies if you have children under the age of 18, or those with specific needs.

Who you’d like to be in charge of organising your estate after you’ve gone

These people are known as the executors and you can have up to 4. 

How to write a will

When it comes to actually writing your will, you can:

Use a solicitor

A specialist solicitor or other regulated professional is likely to know wills, probate and inheritance laws inside out. This is usually the most expensive option. However, if you have complex needs – and particularly if you have children under 18, you’re previously bereaved or a business owner – having a will prepared by a legal professional can give you peace of mind.

Use a will-writing service

This is usually a cheaper option than using a solicitor and could be suitable if your needs are fairly straightforward. 

Remember, will writers are not normally regulated and may not offer the same level of protection as a legal professional so you might want to look for someone who’s a member of a professional organisation.

Write a will yourself

You can use either an online DIY will-writing service or a ready-made template. However, this should only be considered if you have very simple wishes, such as everything to your spouse. 

If you write a will yourself, follow the rules carefully to make sure your will is legal, otherwise it won’t be valid, and make sure family members or friends know where to find it.

When to write a will

It's tempting to keep putting off writing a will. But it makes sense to do it now while you’re thinking about it. That way, you can enjoy the feel-good factor of getting this task off your to-do list.

Some people choose to write a will after a major life event such as getting married or having children. That way you can rest easy, knowing your loved ones will be looked after in the way you want.

It’s important to update your will to make sure it reflects any changes in your life.