Making a will
If you die without a valid will, your money and possessions may not go to the people you would like them to.
Why should I make a will?
If you want to be sure your wishes will be met after you die, then it’s important you have a will.
A will is the only way to make sure your savings and possessions (your estate) go to the people and causes that you care about.
Unmarried partners, including same-sex couples who don’t have a civil partnership, have no right to inherit if there is no will.
Paul Lewis, financial expert and presenter of BBC Radio 4's Moneybox, talks about why you should make a will.
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. This includes your personal possessions.
- 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
If you have no partner or children, then parents, brothers, sisters, and nieces and nephews may inherit your estate.
How do I write a will?
Step one: Value your estate.
Get an idea of what your estate will be worth by drawing up a list of your assets and debts. Get your assets valued regularly because the value of them can change over time.
Assets may include:
- your home and any other properties you own
- savings in bank and building society accounts
- insurance, such as life assurance or an endowment policy
- pension funds that include a lump sum payment on death
- National Savings, such as premium bonds
- investments such as stocks and shares or investment trusts
- motor vehicles
- jewellery, antiques and other personal belongings
- furniture and household contents.
Debts may include:
- credit card balance
- bank overdraft
- equity release.
Step two: Decide how you want to divide your estate.
You can make specific gifts to particular people and then decide where any property or money left over is to go. Or you can divide your estate between a number of people in certain proportions, e.g. half to your spouse and a quarter each to your two children. You should also decide what you want to happen if a beneficiary should die before you do.
Step three: You may decide to leave a legacy (a donation in your will) to your favourite charity.
If you do, make sure you include the charity’s full name, address and registered charity number.
Step four: You’ll also need to choose your executor(s).
These are the people who will deal with distributing your money and property after your death. Find out more about executors.
Step five: Write your will.
You can do this in a number of ways.
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.
Solicitors: It’s usually best to get advice from a solicitor, except in very simple cases. You may wish to speak to a solicitor who specialises in wills and probate. Check that any solicitor you use is licenced with the Law Society.
Professional will writers: Professional will writers are not qualified solicitors. If you decide to use one, 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.
Banks: Some banks now offer will-writing services but these may be costly. Contact your local branch to book an appointment with an adviser to find out what they can offer you.
Step six: The will must be signed and witnessed
See below for more about this
Step seven: Store your will safely
Leave it at home, with a solicitor or bank, or with the Probate Service
Don’t attach any separate documents to the will itself with paperclips or staples – if they detach and leave marks, it might look as if a codicil has been lost and call the will’s validity into doubt.
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 say that this will revokes all others. If you have an earlier will, it should be destroyed.
Signing the will
You must sign a will in front of witnesses.
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.
Witnessing the will
Your signature to the will must be witnessed by two adults. They must also sign the will in your presence.
The witnesses or their husbands, wives or civil partners cannot benefit from the will. If anything has been left to the witnesses, the rest of the will is still valid, but the witness will lose their entitlement to whatever you had intended to leave them.
Making a will if you have an illness or dementia
If you have a serious illness or a diagnosis of dementia, you can still make a will, but you need to have 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 having a new grandchild or moving house.
Never make alterations on the original document.
Making a minor change: Minor changes to your existing will are called codicils. They 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.
Making a substantial change: If anything substantial needs to be changed, you need to make a new will.
Do I have to change my will if I get remarried or divorced?
If you marry, remarry or enter a civil partnership, this usually makes a previously existing will invalid. If you get divorced, your will stays valid but your ex-spouse or civil partner won’t inherit anything if he or she is mentioned in the will.
What do I do next?
If you want to write a will but need some more advice, here’s where you can get more information.
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