What you need to know about writing a will
There can be a lot of confusion and a general feeling that 'it'll never happen to me' about creating a will, which could be the reason why so many people put it off. But writing a will is a great way to ensure your wishes are followed in the event of your death. So, you can see how straightforward the process can be, here's our no-nonsense guide to writing wills. However, everyone's circumstances are different and you might want to take appropriate professional advice for some aspects of your will.
Why make a will?
If you die before you make a will, the law will decide who benefits from any money, property and valued personal possessions you may leave behind.
Writing a will gives you the opportunity to decide where these things will go once you have passed away. Making a will also allows you to ensure your beneficiaries don't pay more inheritance tax than necessary.
Who can make a will?
For your will to be legally valid, you must be:
- Aged 18 or over
- Of sound mind
You must also be making your will voluntarily.
Can you - and should you - do it yourself?
It is possible to write your will yourself but you should seek legal advice from an organisation such as the Citizens Advice Bureau to make sure that what you write is not misinterpreted at a later date.
Whether you write it yourself or get it drawn up professionally, you'll need to get your will formally witnessed and signed otherwise it will not be legally valid.
For your will to be legal it must be:
- In writing
- First, signed by the person making the will (you) in the presence of two witnesses
- Then signed by these two witnesses in the presence of the person making the will (you)
IMPORTANT – The two witnesses you choose must be aged 18 or over, and you should choose people who are not in your will because you can't leave your witnesses (or the people they are married to) anything in your will.
What should your will say?
Your will should clearly state:
- Who you want to benefit from your will
- Who should look after your children if they are aged under 18
- Who is going to be in charge of sorting out your estate and carrying out your wishes after your death – this person will be known as your executor
- It should also set out what will happen if the people who you want to benefit from your will die before you do.
You must also make your will voluntarily.
When might things get complicated - and what to do?
Sometimes, writing a list is not as straightforward as it could be.
GOV.UK states that if any of the circumstances below apply to you, your will may be a little more complicated:
- You share a property with someone who isn't your husband/wife or civil partner
- You want to leave money or property to a dependent who can't care for themselves
- You have several family members who may make a claim on your will, e.g. a second spouse, or children from another marriage
- Your permanent home isn't in the UK
- You're a resident of the UK but have overseas property
- You have a business
In these instances, you may need to seek legal advice from a professional.
What should you do with your will once it has been created?
Most importantly, you will need to keep your will safe, and ensure that your executor or a close friend or relative knows where it is.
Possible places to keep your will safe include:
- At your solicitor's office
- At your bank
- At home in a safe place, along with other important documents
- Alternatively, you can lodge it at the Principal Registry of the FamilyDivision
- A specialist company that handles the storage of wills, these can be found by searching online
What if you need to make any changes?
To make sure it stays correct, you should review your will every five years and also review it if you have any major changes in your life.
Changes that could affect the content of your will include:
- Moving house
- Having a child
- The death of the executor named in your will
- You get married, divorced or separated
What you will need to do to change your will:
It's not possible to simply change your will once it has been signed and witnessed, you have to make an official alteration, known as a codicil. This codicil must be signed by you and witnessed just as your original will was, it's not a problem if your circumstances change several times – there's no limit on how many codicils you create.
If a major change happens in your life, it is best to create a completely new will. This new will should state that it revokes all previous wills and codicils – this will officially cancel any wills and amendments to them that you have written in the past.
IMPORTANT – After completing and witnessing a new will, to save potential confusion remember to destroy any old wills.
If you want to find out more the following websites have some more useful information:
Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Hub content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions. OneFamily do not provide advice so it may be worth speaking to an independent financial advisor about your own circumstances.