Writing a will

Many people don't have a will, but if you die intestate (without one), then the law will decide who benefits from your estate. Lots of us delay making a will – so if that's you, you're not alone. But without a valid will, you can't be sure who will inherit your estate. So what do you need to do?

What is a will?

As an overview, a will is used to do three things. It explains who you’d like to sort out your estate after you’ve died (executors); it can explain how you’d like your funeral to be conducted; and it can dictate who is to receive what from your estate (including instructions for ‘special’ bequests, such as small personal items). It can also be a useful tool in managing the amount of Inheritance Tax that’s paid to the government on your estate when you die.

How do I make a will?

For most people, it makes sense to get advice from a professional will writer. Many solicitors have a will writing department and if you have a family solicitor already, that’s a good place to start. However, you can buy a ‘do it yourself’ will kit from newsagents and from the internet.

How much does it cost?

A single will drawn up by a solicitor can cost between £144 and £300 but this will depend on where you live, how complicated your wishes are, whether you are using trusts etc. Some wills can cost significantly more than this and you can also create a will yourself with will templates available from stationery shops and online. They usually cost £10 to £30. Visit MoneyHelper website for more information regarding Do It Yourself wills.

What happens if I don't make a will?

It depends on where you live in the UK, but some things are the same no matter what. For example, there’s no such thing as a ‘common law’ spouse, so if you’re not married or in a civil partnership, then your partner would not be legally entitled to anything.

If you are married, then your spouse may inherit most or all of your estate and your children may not get anything – even if you’re separated but not divorced (except in Scotland). What’s more, if you don’t make plans in advance, then your estate may have to pay Inheritance Tax.

Who would get everything if I don’t make a will? You can find out – based on where you’re living now and which relatives are still alive – by using the government’s intestacy tool. If you have no close relatives at all, then everything goes to the Crown or the government.

Who needs to be involved in making a will?

You may want your wishes to be private. You may prefer them to be known in advance, to help prevent confusion. Who you tell is up to you, but the executors (the persons you would like to help execute the instructions in the will after you die), do not need to know the details in advance, and neither do the witnesses. In fact, many witnesses are members of staff in a will writer’s or solicitor’s office. What’s most important is that you do make a valid will.

What happens after a will is made?

You should keep a copy, ask any will writers or solicitors involved to hold a copy and – most importantly – share the information about where your will is being kept with at least one other person. If a will can’t be found or ‘proved’ to be the last will in existence, then your estate may be divided in conflict with your wishes.
Wills should be updated when you have a significant change in circumstances or when there’s something you’d like to stipulate that didn’t apply previously. For example, if you get married or divorced then you should update your will to make sure it reflects your new circumstances. And if someone named in your will dies, then you should update your own wishes as soon as it’s practical to do so.
Small changes can be made by adding a note, called a codicil, which has to be signed and witnessed. But if you want to make bigger changes it’s usually sensible to make a whole new will, making sure you destroy any previous wills to avoid any confusion.