If you want to be sure your wishes will be met after you die, then making a will is vital. It may prevent you from paying unnecessary taxes to the government.
How to write a will
Value your estate
Get an idea of what your estate will be worth by drawing up a list of your assets and debts.
Assets that typically make up an estate include:
- your home, and any other property you own
- savings in bank and building society accounts
- National Savings, such as premium bonds
- insurance, such as life assurance or an endowment policy
- pension funds that include a lump sum payment on death
- investments such as stocks and shares or investment trusts
- motor vehicles
- jewellery, antiques and other personal belongings
- furniture and other household contents
Debts may include:
- a mortgage
- a credit card balance
- a bank overdraft
- equity release
Get your assets valued regularly because the value of them can change over time.
Decide how you want to divide your estate
You should make sure that it’s absolutely clear what you want to happen to your whole estate. Think about:
- who you want to benefit from your will
- whether you wish to give any specific gifts to particular people
- where the residue of the estate is to go (any property or money left over after paying funeral and administrative expenses, legacies and taxes)
- what you want to happen if any of your beneficiaries should die before you
You may decide to leave a donation to a charity
If you plan to leave a gift to a charity in your will, make sure you include the charity’s full name, address and registered charity number. Incorrect information may mean your chosen charity doesn’t receive the gift.
Choose your executors
Executors are the people who deal with distributing your estate after you’ve died. Being an executor can involve a lot of work and responsibility, so consider the people you appoint carefully.
Write your will
You can do this in a number of ways.
- Lawyers: It’s usually best to get advice from a lawyer (for example, a solicitor or chartered legal executive). You may wish to speak to a lawyer who specialises in wills and probate (applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions). Check they are licensed with the relevant professional body, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority or Law Society.
- Professional will writers: Professional will writers aren’t qualified solicitors and may not be regulated. If you decide to use one, first check whether they are a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters.
- Charities: Some charities and specific campaigns offer free will-drafting services to encourage will making and charitable legacies (although there’s no obligation). If there’s a particular charity that you favour, check whether they provide this service. For more information visit Will Aid or Free Wills Month – Age UK takes part in these schemes.
- Banks: Some banks offer will-writing services and advice about estate planning. Contact your local branch to book an appointment with an adviser to find out what they can offer. Some banks charge high fees for this service.
- Make your own will: You can make your own will but you must make sure that it’s valid. A will is a legal document so it needs to be written and signed correctly. If you decide to make your own will, it’s best to seek advice first.
Sign your will
You must sign your will in the presence of independent witnesses for it to be valid. Find out more below.
Store your will safely
Leave your will with a solicitor, bank, safely stored at home or with the Probate Service. Find your local Probate Service through GOV.UK.
You must let your executors know where your will is kept. Don’t attach any documents to the will with paperclips or staples – if they detach and leave marks it will raise questions about whether the will is missing any parts or amendments.
How do I make sure my will is valid?
- it must be in writing, signed by you, and witnessed by two people
- you must have the mental capacity to make the will and understand the effect it will have
- you must have made the will voluntarily and without pressure from anyone else.
The beginning of the will should state that it revokes all others. If you have an earlier will, you should destroy it.
Signing and witnessing the will
You must sign your will in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must also sign it in your presence – so all three people should be in the room together when each one signs. If the will is signed incorrectly, it is not valid.
Beneficiaries of the will, their spouses or civil partners shouldn’t act as witnesses, or they lose their right to the inheritance. Beneficiaries shouldn’t even be present in the room when the will is signed. It’s also best not to ask an executor to act as a witness.
Making a will if you have an illness or dementia
If you can’t sign the will, it can also be signed 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 will is invalid. Any will signed on your behalf must contain a clause saying you understood the contents of the will before it was signed.
If you have a serious illness or a diagnosis of dementia, you can still make a will, but you need to have the mental capacity to make sure it is valid. Your solicitor should make sure of this, and you may need a medical practitioner’s statement at the time the will is signed, certifying that you understand what you are signing.
How do I update my will?
You should review your will every five years and after any major change in your life such as a new grandchild or moving house. Never make alterations on the original document.
If you are making a minor amendment to your will, you can add a supplement, known as a codicil. This must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the will, although the witnesses don’t have to be the same as the original ones.
If anything substantial needs to be changed, you should make a new will and cancel your old one.
Do I have to change my will if I get remarried or divorced?
If you marry, remarry or enter a civil partnership, this cancels a previously existing will. Divorce doesn’t automatically invalidate a will made during the marriage, but does exclude your ex-spouse or civil partner from benefitting if they are mentioned in the will. Arrange a new will if you marry, separate or divorce.
What happens if I don’t make a will?
If you don’t make a will, you will die ‘intestate’ and your estate may not go to the people you want. There are special rules for how your estate will be distributed these are called intestacy rules.
- If you have a spouse or civil partner and children, your spouse or civil partner will inherit all your personal possessions and at least the first £250,000 of your estate, plus half the rest. Your children will then be entitled to the other half of the balance.
- If you have a spouse or civil partner but don’t have children your spouse or civil partner will inherit your whole estate, including your personal possessions.
- If you and your partner aren’t married or in a civil partnership and you haven’t made a will, they have no automatic right to inherit from your estate. This applies even if you’ve lived together for a long time or have children together.
- If you have children and your spouse or partner is deceased your children will inherit everything, divided equally between them.
- If you don’t have a partner or children then parents, brothers, sisters, and nieces and nephews may inherit your estate.