Making a Will - your complete guide
Making a Will is the best way to protect the people you care about. And it's a lot easier than you might think.
A Will is one of the most important things you’ll ever sign, for both you and your family.
If you haven’t got around to making a Will, or you’re putting off updating an existing Will, you’re not alone. Staggeringly, more than half of British adults don’t have a Will.
But having a valid Will is the only way you can make sure everything you’ve worked hard for - your home, possessions and money – gets passed on to the people you care about.
Without a Will, it’s left to the government to decide who gets what. And chances are that means at least some of it ending up in the hands of those you would never have chosen.
Writing a Will is a lot easier, and more affordable, than you might think. In this guide we look at everything you need to know about making a Will.
With the right advice, making a Will can be straightforward. Follow our simple step-by-step guide to find out how to make a Will.
- Make sure your Will is valid
- Value your estate
- Decide how to distribute your estate
- Consider remembering a charity
- Name executors and guardians
- Don't forget your digital assets
- Store your Will
However you decide to make your Will, the first thing is to make sure it's legally valid.
According to GOV.UK, for your Will to be legally valid, you must:
- Be 18 or over
- Make it voluntarily
- Be of sound mind
- Make it in writing
- Sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18
- Have it signed by your two witnesses, in your presence
Signing and witnessing your Will
When a signature is being witnessed, it must:
- Be in clear view of the person and the act of signing
- The Will maker (or person authorised to sign on their behalf) and witnesses must sign the same document
Any changes you make to a Will must also follow the same signing and witnessing process. You also can’t leave any of your witnesses (or their married partners) anything in your Will.
New rules for witnessing Wills
In England and Wales, the rules have been updated to make witnessing Wills easier during the Covid 19 pandemic.
Since July 2020 government guidelines state that, as long as the Will maker and the witness each have a 'clear line of sight', a Will can be legally witnessed:
- Through a window or open door of a house or a vehicle
- From a corridor or adjacent room into a room with the door open
- Outdoors from a short distance, for example in a garden
- Over a video call
Please note, these new rules do not apply in Scotland.
Before you speak to a solicitor or professional Will writer, they’ll expect you to have a rough idea of what you own and what it’s worth.
All you need is a basic valuation at this stage. Don’t worry about working out the exact value of everything – as long as you have a rough idea of the value of your estate, that’s enough for them to get on with.
You should think about how much the following things are worth:
- Personal possessions, including sentimental objects
- Your pension
- Any investments you’ve made
- Your business, if you own or part-own one
You also need to have an idea of any existing debts you have. These debts might include mortgages, loans and overdrafts. Again, this doesn’t have to be a precise value, but your solicitor or Will writer Will need to know a rough idea of the amounts.
The next step is to decide what you want to happen to your estate, including who should benefit from your Will and details of any gifts you want to make.
Gifts can be anything you own and can take the form of specific items, cash amounts, or a percentage of your estate.
By making your Will you can make provisions for the age at which young beneficiaries receive their gift or share of your estate, as well as providing for beneficiaries with health or care needs.
You may choose to use your Will to pass on business interests: for instance you could leave shares in the family company to a son or daughter who has come into the business. This is a very tax-efficient way to pass on your assets.
You can also name family and friends who you wish to pass on personal items to.
Has a charity helped you or somebody you love? Which causes are important to you?
After you’ve looked after your family and friends, you may wish to leave a gift to a charity close to your heart. The donation can be as small or large as you like.
Make a note of their charity name, address and registered charity number to give to your professional advisor.
We can provide you with these details for our member charities, or you can find details for all registered charities in the UK and Wales on the Charity Commission website. Details for charities in Scotland can be found on the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator website.
Another important decision is choosing an executor – the person who deals with your estate in the event of your death.
It's important that you choose someone you trust. Ideally, executors should be business-minded family or friends, or a professional advisor.
If you don't name an executor in your Will, or you die without a valid Will, an executor will be appointed by a probate court. It’s normally a close family member, but they have to accept the role.
It’s a big responsibility being an executor – that’s why people are allowed to refuse the role. The executor has to collect and make an inventory of all the estate’s assets. They can be used to pay off outstanding debts, so the executor must contact any creditors. Afterwards, the remaining assets can be distributed according to the terms set out in the Will.
You can find out more about their duties and responsibilities in our guide about executors.
You may also need to choose guardians for your children. A guardian is someone who is legally responsible for looking after your kids if you die before they turn 18.
If you die without a Will or without appointing a guardian, and there’s no other parent with parental responsibility, it’s up to the courts to decide what’s best for your kids. Most people choose other family members as guardians.
We all have increasing amounts of digital assets stored online.
These range from email and Facebook accounts, passwords for online accounts, to digital music and photos. Many people don’t consider passing on this information in the event of their death.
But you can pass on your digital assets to family or friends when writing a Will. Take a look at the example digital assets listed below to help you consider what digital assets you own and who you would like to pass them on to.
Digital assets with financial value
- Bank account
- Savings (e.g. ISAs)
- Share dealing account
- Digital music collection (e.g. iTunes)
- Paid-for apps (e.g. smartphone apps)
- Online subscriptions (e.g. Netflix, online publications)
- Online software and files
- Domain registrations
- Computer games
Digital assets with emotional value
- Social networking site account (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter)
- Online photo albums
- Digital music collection (e.g. Spotify, iTunes)
- Content created by you (e.g. diary, blog, video, music)
- Second Life account
Digital assets containing useful information
- Contacts (address book)
- Information such as traditional family recipes
- Important household information
- Personal emails
- Personal letters saved on computer
Once written, you need to store your Will. This makes it easier for your executor to find the Will and carry out your wishes.
Most solicitors and professional Will writers will offer to store your Will for you. Some banks also offer a Will storage service for a fee.
You can store your Will with HM Courts & Tribunals Service for £20.
Alternatively, you can store it somewhere safe and register its location with the National Will register.
10 reasons to make a Will
Find out why you should have an up-to-date Will.
First and foremost, a Will is the only way you can make sure your estate - including your money, property and possessions - is passed on to the people you want to receive them.
If you don’t make a Will, ‘intestacy rules’ will apply. These rules dictate how your estate must be shared out if you pass away without a valid Will.
Under intestacy rules, there’s a strict order of who will inherit:
- Spouse or civil partner
- Brothers and sisters
- Uncles and aunts
The rules cover many eventualities, but favour direct family and close relatives.
The following relations cannot inherit under intestacy rules:
- Unmarried partners
- Partners not in a civil partnership
- Relations by marriage
- Close friends
These rules may not reflect your wishes, meaning people and causes close to your heart may miss out. It can also be a major headache for your loved ones to sort out your affairs with no Will.
To make sure your estate is passed on in the way you want, you must write a Will.
Making a Will reduces the burden on the loved ones you leave behind. It can also help protect your assets and reduce the impact that inheritance tax and residential care fees can have on your estate.
How much do you know about making a Will?
We asked people on the street what they know about making a Will.
A Will is a legally binding document. It tells everyone you leave behind what should happen to your estate, so it needs to be done properly.
There are a number of different options you can consider when making a Will, including making a Will yourself. However, you should only consider doing this if your wishes are very straightforward.
If a Will has errors or is invalid after your death, it can cause problems and misunderstandings.
Common mistakes in making a Will could include:
- Not including all your money and property
- Not taking into account the possibility that one or more of your beneficiaries could die before you
- Not understanding the effect a marriage, a civil partnership or divorce has on your Will
Your options for making a Will include:
Speaking to a local solicitor or dedicated Will writer is always advisable if you’re considering making or updating a Will.
By having your Will professionally written, you ensure everything is covered and arranged as you would like. You’ll have the confidence your Will is drafted correctly – and free from errors.
You can find a solicitor or Will writer in your area via our network of professional advisors. Our specialists offer free advice over the phone and can advise you on writing a Will in a matter of minutes.
It’s particularly important to use a solicitor if your circumstances are slightly complicated. For example, if you have a partner who is not your husband, wife or civil partner who you’d like to leave some of your estate to, or if there is a business involved.
You can also use a Will-writing service – many of which allow you to easily start making a Will online.
With some services, you can even arrange a home visit to use digital tools to draft your Will. This can be more convenient for some (for example, the elderly).
Will-writing services tend to suit people with straightforward circumstances and wishes (such as leaving assets to your immediate family). They can be a low-cost alternative to a solicitor.
Many banks offer Will-writing services – sometimes for less than £100. But watch out for any clauses that specify the bank as the executor or joint executor, and charge a fee for the role.
What’s more, if you decide to use a Will-writing service, try and find one that belongs to The Institute of Professional Willwriters. This means they operate with a code of practice approved by the Trading Standards Institute Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS). That’s because Will writing is an unregulated practice, without the same safeguards that solicitors and law firms, which are subject to strict regulations, offer.
If you want to start your Will online, or amend an existing Will, you can take advantage of our partnership with Co-op Legal Services, which gives you 20% off their Will-writing services.
You can write your own Will without professional advice, but we always advise seeking professional legal advice.
You can find templates online or buy them in some stores. For people with very straightforward circumstances, it can be an affordable way of making a Will.
But if you use a template, that company isn’t responsible for your Will being correct. While it’s possible to make your own Will, you need to be careful that you don’t miss out on something vital, as leaving out certain details could make your Will invalid. We strongly recommended you have it checked by a professional.
When you should use a professional to write your Will
You should always use a professional Will writer or a solicitor to write your Will if:
You own foreign property
Taxation on foreign property will be different to that on UK soil. And in the cases where your foreign property is merged with your UK assets, you’ll potentially face double taxation when you pass. If this is the case, you’ll need a solicitor to make sure your assets are protected.
You want to reduce inheritance tax
There are a few tricks of the trade when it comes to reducing the amount of inheritance tax you have to pay. For example, did you know that leaving 10% of your estate to charity can reduce your tax from 40% to 36%?
Solicitors will know exactly what you can do to lower the amount you’re expected to pay. Relying on them in these circumstances will mean those you leave behind are that little bit better off.
You’re leaving your business to someone
Passing over the entirety of your business is a complex process. There are a lot of loopholes to jump through, as well as the potential to pay a huge amount in inheritance tax.
In some cases, your executors may even need to sell parts of your assets to pay for this tax. This is again an area where you would benefit from the experience of a professional.
You have any complex needs in your Will
If there’s anything in your Will you know isn’t going to be easy to process (or even understand) then it's worth getting a professional to look over it.
Find a solicitor or Will writer
Search from over 1,300 trusted solicitors and professional Will writers to find support near you.
The main difference between Will writers and solicitors is that while anyone can become a Will writer, solicitors are qualified lawyers who are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The law in England and Wales states that anyone can write a Will, meaning that you or a professional Will writer are perfectly able to do so. However, merely writing a Will doesn’t mean that it is legally valid, which could lead to complications and unnecessary stress for loved ones after you pass away. This is why we recommend choosing a solicitor or professional Will writer to write your Will.
Choosing to have a solicitor write your Will ensures that you are covered by the protections offered by legal service regulators. As such, you wouldn’t incur any costs should the Will need to be rewritten after failing to meet any legal requirements.
Which is right for me?
Solicitors tend to cost more than professional Will writers, so if money is a concern for you, the latter may be a better option, as online services like Farewill start their services at around £90.
Additionally, if you’re reasonably familiar with the Will-writing process, you may find it easier to go down this route rather than deal with a solicitor.
However, if you have a more complex estate or would like the added security that comes with using an accredited solicitor, we’d suggest that this is the better choice for you. It only takes one mistake for a Will to be deemed invalid, so getting it right the first time is very important. The types of situations where you’d be better off with a solicitor include:
- You want to hand over control of a business
- You don’t live in the UK or you have property overseas
- You own a property with someone who is not your partner
- You want to set up care for a dependent
Solicitors operate in a regulated industry, which means that you have more rights as a customer should something go wrong with your Will. Typically, you can contact the Legal Ombudsman to complain if you’ve spoken to the solicitor directly and your concerns aren’t addressed.
Many Will-writing services are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, but it’s worth checking as policies can vary from company to company. Some also belong to official organisations that can step in to help you out if you’re not happy with the process. The most well-recognised organisations are the Institute of Professional Willwriters and the Society of Will Writers.
You should also ask the Will-writing company where their indemnity cover starts. If it’s less than £2 million, consider looking elsewhere, as you may find it tough to get compensation from companies offering less than this should things go wrong.
Frequently asked questions
We answer all your questions about making a Will.
The cost of making your Will varies depending on how you decide to do it.
A simple Will from a Will writer or bank could start from around £80. Solicitors will charge £100 and upwards, depending on the complexity of the Will.
If you need to reflect more complicated circumstances in your Will or would like to include a trust, you would expect to pay around £500 or more. But do shop around for quotes.
For more information, read our guide on the cost of writing a Will.
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It’s often major milestones in our lives which remind us of the importance of a Will – having a baby or buying a house, for example.
Although you can write a Will from the age of 18, there’s no recommended age when you should make yours.
But there are key reasons . These include:
- Dependent children. Not only will you want your Will to provide for your children financially after you’re gone, but if they are under 18, you’ll want to name a legal guardian(s).
- Couples not married or in a civil partnership. If you’re unmarried, but would like your partner to inherit, you need a Will to say so. Otherwise they have no legal right to your estate.
- Major relationship changes. Have you got married, divorced or had more children? Then you need to ensure the right people stand to benefit from your Will. In England and Wales, existing Wills are revoked when you get married. This means they’re cancelled – and unless you make a new Will following your marriage, rules of intestacy would apply if you died. This could be an issue for people who marry later in life and want their children to inherit, rather than their new spouse.
- Owning property with someone else or owning property abroad. Depending on how you own your property, the person you own it with may inherit your share or it may pass on under intestacy rules if you don’t have a Will. In the UK, this will happen if you own on a ‘tenants in common’ basis. Inheritance laws may vary in other countries.
- Estate planning. Estates worth more than £325,000 could be charged inheritance tax, with anything above this threshold subject to a 40% tax rate. But if you leave your estate to your spouse or a charity, inheritance tax isn’t charged. A Will can help you with estate planning to reduce the inheritance tax bill.
- Specific funeral requests. Got some unusual requests for your funeral? Make sure you have a valid Will with these instructions.
If any of these apply to you, consider making a Will or updating yours soon.
If you need to update your Will, you’ve got two options:
1. Make an official alteration – called a codicil
2. Make a new Will
Codicils act as a supplement to the existing Will, making adjustments but leaving the rest of the Will as it stands. You can’t just write over the existing Will. A codicil is a formal addition that must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the original Will. The witnesses don’t have to be the same though.
You might want to make a codicil if your circumstances have changed. For example:
- To add new beneficiaries
- To change an executor or guardian named in the Will
- To increase the money left
There’s no limit to how many codicils can be added to your Will. They are suitable for straightforward changes, but if the changes you want to make are extensive, then it’s best to make a new Will. The new Will should start with a clause stating that it revokes all previous Wills and any codicils.
For more information, read our guide on updating your Will.
A-Z of Wills
Confused by all the legal jargon? Here we explain what the most common legal terms mean.
The short answer is yes. If your Will is invalid for any reason or the instructions are conflicting, it can be contested.
In fact, disputes over inheritance are on the rise in England and Wales, with the number of contested Wills being heard at the High Court reaching an all-time high in 2019.
These cases could be just the tip of the iceberg, with many disputes being settled outside of court.
A Will could be challenged if someone believes:
- The Will is invalid
- They haven’t been adequately provided for by the Will
Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, people may claim to benefit from an estate if they don’t feel like the Will provides them with reasonable financial provisions. The Act can be quite far-reaching and claims could include:
- Estranged children claiming on their parent’s estate – even if the parent’s Will explicitly says they don’t want that child to benefit
- Employees or dependants claiming to inherit a farm or business after working for little money and being promised they would inherit
- Friends or neighbours who have been helped out financially by the deceased can claim because they were maintained by the individual before they died
Avoiding challenges to validity
To ensure your Will isn’t challenged, make sure you don’t amend or cross out anything on the document itself. Make any changes to your Will in the official way with a witnessed codicil or by making a new Will.
You won’t be around to explain your reasoning, so make sure your instructions are clear. They should be easy for the executor to follow.
Who should I choose as the executor of my Will?
Most people either choose someone very close to them or an experienced professional to become the executor of their Will. This is largely due to the fact they are trusting the individual (or individuals) with their entire financial history.
As such, common executors are:
• Family members
• Very close friends
• Solicitors or accountants
You only need one executor, but most people tend to select two in case your first choice is unable to fulfil their duties for whatever reason. You are allowed up to a maximum of four.
Should I include funeral wishes in my Will?
Including directions for your funeral can be incredibly useful. It’s the perfect way to let your loved ones know how you want to be sent off, without having to have a long and awkward conversation about your passing ahead of time.
That said, it can be a great benefit to have this frank chat with your family, especially if you become seriously ill. The decision totally comes down to how comfortable you feel about having it.
What is a grant of probate?
A grant of probate is something your executor has to be given so that they can administer your Will properly. Probate allows them to manage and move your assets freely – something that cannot be done without this form of legal permission.
To be given a grant of probate, your estate must first be in order. Once this is done, your executor will be able to apply for a grant. Only once they have been accepted can they begin to sort through the assets.
When should I review my Will?
Your personal circumstances are going to change regularly, so your Will needs to as well. It’s generally advised you check it once every five years, but the amount of time you leave between reviews is totally up to you.
In some circumstances – such as a divorce, separation or the sudden loss of someone close to you – you might want to make an immediate change to who is left what.
What if I have young children?
Having young children means you need to take extra considerations into account. You’ll want to lay out who takes guardianship of them should you pass away. This is a huge responsibility, so be sure to discuss it with your chosen guardian first.
If you’re thinking of leaving assets or a lump sum to younger children, you might also want to leave this in the protection of a guardian until the child in question turns a certain age. It’s your choice what this age should be.