How to make a will

If you die without a will it can cause additional stress for family members who may be unsure about your wishes.

Not only could they be unsure how to distribute your possessions and savings, but this can often cause arguments and rifts that can last years.

In this article we explore the reasons why you should write a will and some of your options for doing it.

A bearded and bespectacled man peers closely at the crossword in the newspaper.

What is a will?

A will is a legal document that records your wishes and states who will get things you leave behind, and who is in charge of distributing them. If you die ‘intestate’ (without writing a will) then there are a whole range of knock-on effects for you and your family.

Reasons for making a will

  • If you don’t have any living relatives, your possessions could be sold off and the ‘crown’ (government) keeps the proceeds.
  • If you’re separated, but still legally married or in a civil partnership, your ex could get everything – even if you split up with them years ago.
  • If you’ve divorced and remarried your ex could get nothing, even if you owe them money.
  • If you don’t say exactly who gets what then arguments could break out over favourite or valuable items.
  • Your kids won’t get anything if you’re not married to their mum or dad.
  • You won’t be able to leave an inheritance to grandchildren, rather than your children.
  • If you don’t say who you want to look after your kids, the courts and social services decide where they go – and it might be into care.
  • If you’re not legally married to, or in a civil partnership with, the person you live with they’re only automatically entitled to anything you jointly own, such as savings or property.
  • You could pay more inheritance tax than you need to.
  • If you and your spouse (husband/wife/partner) die at the same time, say in a car accident, whoever’s oldest is said to have died first. If that’s you, your assets then pass to your spouse and then straight on to his or her family.
  • You can specify your wishes relating to burial, cremation and the funeral service.

When should you write a will?

Life is short and unpredictable, so the sooner you make a will the better. That said, there are some key milestones which prompt many of us to write our will.

Often it’s when people buy their first home or have their first child when they make their first will. It’s when people tend to build up an estate and family who depend on them.

For others it’s the death of a relative, a marriage or a divorce that can trigger will writing.

How to write a will

It’s crucial that your will is correctly written if it’s going to be legally-binding on your death. This is why it’s recommended to use a solicitor or will provider with legal expertise to ensure the document is valid.

If your total estate value is under the inheritance tax limit then you can write the will yourself with the assistance of a will writing service. You can find our more about gifting and inheritance tax in our guide here.

How to write a will

There’s plenty that can be included in your will, a solicitor or will writing service can help you with that. But there are a few crucial things to include:

  • Beneficiaries – the people who will be receiving your money and possessions.
  • Executor – the person in charge of distributing those things.
  • Children – what should happen to your children?
  • Alternatives – if, for example, your beneficiaries or executor dies, or if your estate grows substantially between now and then.

Ensuring your will is legal

In order to be legally-binding in England and Wales your will should be:

  • In writing.
  • Written by you voluntarily and in sound mind.
  • Signed and dated with two witnesses who aren’t beneficiaries.

Changing your will

It makes sense to review your will periodically, as your circumstances will change. Some people choose to do this every five years.

Minor amends like changing executor or beneficiary can be done with an additional document called a codicil. This has to be signed and witnessed in the same way as the original will.

Alternatively, you can replace an existing will with a new one. In order to ensure the old will is ignored you should destroy any copies and add on the new will a statement that previous wills are null and void.

Find more information about making a will here.

Note: We take care to ensure Talking Finance content is accurate at the time of publication. Individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions.