Making a Will is an important task; the consequences to those left behind if there is no Will can be distressing and expensive. However, the task needn't be an onerous one if you follow the steps we have outlined for you below.
On this page:
- List your Assets
- Choose your Beneficiaries
- Inheritance Tax
- Appointing Guardians
- Trusts for your Chidlren
- Appointing Executors
- Preparing your Will
- Sign your Will
- Store your Will
- Changing your Will
- Diagram: An Overview of making a will
The first step in writing your Will is to make a list of all your assets such as property, cash, investments, vehicles and any other valuable possessions.
To help you work out your assets more easily we have created a checklist that you can print off and fill in by hand (this is currently unavailable while we update it).
You may choose anyone you wish to benefit from your Will.
However, if you have any dependants you should be aware that the Provision for Family and Dependants Act 1975 requires that, wherever possible, you should leave them enough to live on. If you have dependants and write a Will that leaves everything to another beneficiary, your Will may be challenged in the courts, who may declare it invalid.
When choosing your beneficiaries, you may like to consider the following people:
- Your spouse or civil partner, and any former spouse or civil partner who has not re-married, or any partner with whom you've been living for at least the last two years.
- Your children, including any adopted or stepchildren, or anyone that you have been caring for as if they were your child.
- Anyone you've financially providing for, such as an elderly or infirm relative.
- Other relatives and friends to whom you want to give a gift, such as a sum of money or a specific object of monetary or sentimental value.
- Any charity that you wish to support. Any cash gifts you leave to charity are not charged Inheritance Tax. Ensure that your Will states the exact name, address and registered charity number of your chosen charity.
Inheritance Tax is the tax payable on the value of the estate of someone who has died. It is charged at a rate of 40% on the portion of the estate over the 'threshold level', currently £ 325,000 (2011-2012).
It is possible to minimise the amount of Inheritance Tax (IHT) that will be payable on your death, by becoming familiar with the rules of how IHT is calculated and organising your finances and your Will accordingly.
If you and your partner were to die before your children reached the age of 18, they would need the care of a legally appointed Guardian. A guardian is the person who takes care of the surviving children and receives any money and/or assets paid from your estate until they are old enough to be responsible for it.
You can appoint legal guardians for your children by naming in your Will the people that you would like to take on this responsibility.
If you fail to appoint Guardians in your Will and both parents die before the children reach 18, the courts will appoint Guardians instead, but they won't necessarily appoint the people that you would have preferred to take care of your children.
If when you pass away the other parent of your child survives, the surviving parent will normally continue to have full responsibility for the child. However, if neither parent survives (as in some road accidents) then the Guardians you have appointed will take on the responsibility for your children.
While it is permissible to appoint just one guardian, most parents prefer to appoint two, typically a couple. When choosing guardians it is advisable to choose guardians who you feel will be willing and able to take on the responsibility for caring for your children, and who already have good relationships with the children.
A Trust is an arrangement set up by Will or Deed in which money, property or other assets are held and managed by the appointed Trustees on behalf of the named beneficiaries.
A Trust is usually set up when a person writing a Will has children under the age of 18. Doing so allows for your money, property and assets to be looked after properly until your surviving children are old enough to take responsibility for them, usually 18 or 21 years old. When you set up a Trust in your Will, you must also appoint Trustees who will become responsible for managing the assets in accordance with your instructions as stated in your Will.
There are different types of trusts:
- Fixed Trusts, in which the proportions for how much to pay to each beneficiary are clearly stated.
- Discretionary Trusts, which state the names of the beneficiaries but allow Trustees to decide how much to give to each, according to circumstances.
- Accumulation and Maintenance Trusts, which are usually used to provide for children and grandchildren, and which offer enhanced tax rates.
- Protective Trusts, in which the beneficiary can receive income from the Trust while the capital remains protected. This type of trust is usually used for beneficiaries who are bankrupt or likely to become so.
- Trusts for Disabled Beneficiaries, which are discretionary trusts with special tax exemptions for beneficiaries who are disabled.
An executor is the person named in your Will who will be responsible for handling your estate and ensuring that your wishes are carried out after you die.
An executor's duties include ensuring that all debts, bills, funeral expenses and taxes are paid out of the money in your estate, and that all your beneficiaries receive what you intended them to have.
It is important to choose your executors carefully as their job involves a great deal of work and responsibility. You could choose friends, family members, or a professional such as your solicitor or accountant. While it is permissible to appoint one executor, it is advisable to appoint more than one, in case one should pass away. A good combination would be a friend or family member and a professional. Ideally, you should choose someone who is familiar with financial matters.
Make sure your executors are happy to take on this duty, as there are long-term responsibilities involved, particularly if you include a trust in your Will. It is a good idea to ask someone younger than you are. If an executor dies, any other surviving executor(s) can deal with the estate. If there are no surviving executors, legal advice should be sought.
While there is no obligation by law to hire a professional to write your Will, the legal and financial consequences of any error or oversight in this process can be quite serious. The cost of the legal fees may therefore be seen as a wise investment. You have several options:
Use an Online Will Company. This option is often the least costly and quickest. You can use an online will company and after completing a few online forms your Will will be automatically generated. An online Will solution is not advisable if you have complex requirements such as the need to create trusts or leave a family business as a legacy. Also if you have a high net worth it is essential to take professional advice to minimise your tax liability.
If you order your Will online with us you are able to make changes to your Will as many times as you would like when your circumstances change. People often change their will following a birth, death or new property purchase.
We are members of the Society of Will Writers and are covered by professional indemnity insurance to protect you against losses.
Use a solicitor. Many people still go to a solicitor to draft their Will. Although it is considerably more expensive and often a longer, for those with complex or very large estates drafting your Will with a solicitor is the best option.
Use the Legal Help scheme. If you meet the following criteria you should be eligible to receive free legal advice including the writing of your Will:
1. You are on a low income and/or in receipt of certain benefits
2. You are over 70 years old, or
3. You are seriously disabled or visually impaired or hearing impaired, or
4. Your child is seriously disabled or visually impaired or hearing impaired.
It is crucial to follow the correct procedures when signing your Will, otherwise your Will may be declared legally invalid. Here are the procedures that must be followed to ensure that your Will is legally valid:
- The testator (the person whose Will it is) and two witnesses must be in the same room at the same time for the whole process of signing and witnessing the Will.
- The witnesses must not be beneficiaries (people who will receive money, assets or anything else from the estate).
- A blind person cannot be a witness.
- The first person to sign must be the testator (the person whose Will it is), and this should be done in the sight of both the witnesses.
- Then each witness should sign in the sight of the testator and the other witness.
- The Will must be dated with the date that it is signed and witnessed.
- You must not attach any additional pages to the Will.
In addition, you should bear in mind the following when signing your Will:
- It is not recommended that a witness is under 18.
- It is not recommended that a witness is an executor of the Will.
- If the Will is longer than one page, everyone should sign at the bottom of each page, immediately after the last line of text, so that nothing can be added to the document after you have signed.
Once your Will is properly signed and witnessed, it is a legal document. It is important to store your Will safely and inform your executor(s) where it is stored.
If you have ordered your Will with us you can use our secure storage facility and retrieve your Will whenever necessary. You are also able to make as many changes to your Will as you need to and can restore the amended version at no additional cost.
There are several other ptions for safe storage of your Will:
- Your solicitor's safe room. If your Will was prepared by your solicitor, it is usually possible to ask them to store the original safely and give you a copy, free of charge.
- A bank deposit box. There is usually a charge for this service. You should inform the bank of the name and address of your executor(s) when arranging this.
- At home. This is the least safe option, and there is a real danger that the Will may not be found at the time of your death. If you decide to store your Will at home, keep it in a safe place with your other important documents, such as your birth certificate and your life insurance policy, in clearly labelled files, and tell your executor where you have stored it.
- The Principle Probate Registry. For a fee, you can store your Will (and/or codicils) at the Principle Registry, by taking it to your nearest Probate Registry and completing the form they give you. They will send your Will to the Principle Registry and give you a certificate of deposit, which you need to present if you later wish to withdraw your stored Will. This storage option is very safe, but not the easiest to access.
After you have made your Will, you may choose to change it. People usually change their Will after a change of circumstances, such as:
- A marriage or divorce
- The birth of a child
- A major change in financial circumstances
- The death of a partner or other beneficiary
- A change of heart
To change your Will, you cannot simply write changes on the existing document. There are two legally valid ways to change your Will:
- By making a codicil (for small changes)
- By making a new Will and revoking the old one (for major changes)
A codicil is a legal document that you can have prepared in the same way as your original Will, which acts as a supplementary document to the Will. Codicils are usually used for making simple changes to the Will, such as increasing the value of a cash gift, changing a guardian or executor because your original choice has died or their circumstances have changed, and reallocating a bequest because the intended beneficiary has died.
The codicil should be signed, witnessed, dated and stored in the same way as the Will. It is not necessary to use the same witnesses as for the Will. The executor(s) should be made aware that there is a codicil, and given the details of its location. It is permissible to draw up more than one codicil, and it is recommended that codicils are numbered and stored together, with the Will.
For more complex or significant changes, it is advisable to draw up a new Will.
If you have us draft your Will you are able to make as many changes to your Will whenever you need to at no extra charge.
Diagram: Overview of making a Will (currently unavailable)