Making a will can help make sure your money and belongings are shared out in the way you want. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time and it’s possible to write one for free.
Here’s what you need to know about writing a will.
How do you write a will?
You can write your will on a piece of paper. It doesn’t need to be in a certain format but it needs to be clear so that people know what your wishes are after you die.
If you prefer, you can buy will templates from stationers or on the internet.
You’ll need to sign the will yourself and get other people to witness it too. This is because a will has to be legally binding for it to be valid and effective.
Why do you need witnesses to your will?
Your witnesses have to watch you sign your will in person to make sure it’s legally binding and valid. If you’re in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you’ll need to have two witnesses who are over 18. If you’re in Scotland, you’ll need one witness who’s over 16.
The people or person who witness you signing your will also have to sign it too.
The law says you can’t leave anything in your will to your witness or witnesses. This means they can’t be ‘beneficiaries’ of it. They can be named as executors though.
What’s an executor?
An executor is someone you name in your will who makes sure your wishes are carried out after you die. It’s a good idea to have more than one executor and you can ask family or friends to do this.
The law says an executor can benefit from your will as long as they’re not also a witness.
What kind of things do you need to think about when making a will?
There are a few different things to think about when you’re making a will. Your will can cover what you want to happen to your money, property and possessions when you die.
You can also write down who you’d want to look after your children when you die if they’re under 18. You might want to speak to the people you have in mind to do this before you write your will.
You might also want to record what kind of funeral you’d like to have in your will.
- Who you want to inherit your home or other property
- Who you want to inherit your money
- Who you want to inherit other special items – these could be valuables such as jewellery or things that have sentimental value
- Who should inherit any belongings or money that aren’t named in your will (known as a residuary gift)
- Who you’d like to look after your children if you die before they’re 18
- What you’d like for your funeral
- Whether you’d like to donate your body to science (though you’ll also need to complete a separate consent form for this)
Keep in mind that for some final wishes, you’ll need to do more than document them in your will. For example, if you’d like to donate your body to science, you’ll need to complete a separate consent form for the hospital or medical school you’ve chosen.
To help you think about planning out your will, you can take a look at the free wills planner offered on the Which? website to get you started.
What if you forget to record something in your will?
There’s a lot to think about when making your will so you might forget to write down some of your assets. Because of this, it’s a good idea to include something called a residuary gift so that anything you’ve not mentioned in your will is given to a named person or people.
What if you want to change your will?
If you want to change your will after you’ve made it, you’ll need to make a new will which says what changes you’re making. The technical term for this is a ‘codicil.’
You’ll need to sign the new will and get it witnessed again. It doesn’t matter if the witnesses are different to the ones who did this for you the first time.
Do you need a solicitor to make a will?
No, you don’t have to use a solicitor to make your will, though you might want to do this if your circumstances are complicated. Alternatively, you can make a will by yourself or you can get help from a professional will writing service. We’ll take a look at the different options below.
Writing a will yourself
If you write a will yourself, you’ll need to make sure your instructions are clear and that all of your assets are recorded in it. You must sign it and get it witnessed too. This is important to make sure that the will is legally valid.
You can also write your will yourself and pay a professional to check it over for you. This is a good idea if you’d like peace of mind about getting it right.
If your situation is complicated, it’s a good idea to think about getting professional help.
Help from a charity
Some charities offer services where you can get a will written for free or in exchange for a donation, or leaving a gift to the charity in your will. You can find out more about this option in this handy article by Which? on charity-backed will-writing schemes.
Help from a solicitor
If your situation is complicated, it’s usually worth getting help from a solicitor to write your will. It’s a good idea to do this if, for example:
- It’s likely that there will be inheritance tax to pay on your estate
- You live or own property abroad
- You have children from previous relationships or you’re divorced
- You live with someone that you’re not married to or in a civil partnership with
- You run your own company or companies
It’s likely to cost a few hundred pounds to get help from a solicitor to write your will. You can ask them what it’s going to cost when you get in touch with them.
You can find a solicitor who specialises in will writing and checking by clicking on the link for where you live:
- England and Wales: The Law Society
- Scotland: The Law Society of Scotland
- Northern Ireland: The Law Society of Northern Ireland
Help from a will-writing service
This is probably a cheaper option than getting help from a solicitor if your situation is straightforward.
If you decide you’d like to get help from a will-writing service, you can check the Institute of Professional Willwriters website here for a list of approved providers.
Where should you keep your will?
You’ll need to keep your will in a safe place once it’s written. This could be at home, with a solicitor, a will writer or at your bank. Remember you might have to pay a fee if you decide to store it away from home.
Wherever you decide to store your will, it’s very important to let your executor or executors know where it is and how to get it. This is because they’ll need to access it after you die to carry out your wishes.
How much does it cost to write a will?
Making a will can cost you nothing at all if you write it yourself or use a free will writing service. If you use a solicitor or a professional will writer to help you, it could cost you a few hundred pounds. So it’s worth weighing up which is the right option for you.
What happens if you don’t make a will?
If you don’t make a will, the law will decide how your property and belongings are shared out after you die. There are specific rules about who can inherit, known as the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy also apply if a will isn’t valid (for example, if it hasn’t been signed or witnessed). Learn more about what happens if someone dies without a will.
Learn more about planning your final wishes
Writing a will helps you make sure your money and belongings are given to the people you want to inherit. Here are some other things you might want to think about planning to make sure your family know what you want:
- What happens if someone dies without a will
- How to plan your final wishes
- How to manage your digital legacy