A guide to writing a will
A will is a legal document that specifies what happens after you die. It is the only way to ensure that your money, property, and possessions go to the people and causes you want.
To write a will and guarantee your wishes are carried out, follow these steps:
In This Guide:
- Itemise and value your estate
- Decide who you want your estate to benefit
- Decide how you want to divide your estate
- Choose your executors
- Check if you have to pay inheritance tax
- Write your will
- Sign your will
- Storing your will in a safe place
Itemise and value your estate
Write down your assets and what they’re worth. Include:
- your home and any other property you own
- cash savings in bank and building society accounts
- insurance policies that pay out at death, including term life insurance, life assurance, and investment bonds
- stock market investments, including shares, bonds, and funds
- pension funds that include lump sum payments upon death
- any businesses you own or part-own
- motor vehicles
- valuables including jewellery, artwork, and antiques
- the contents of your home, including furniture, and personal possessions, including those which may have mostly sentimental value
You’ll also need to account for your debts. These may include
- any outstanding balance on your mortgage
- credit card debt
- equity release schemes
- bank overdrafts
Decide who you want your estate to benefit
Who do you want to receive your money and possessions following your death? Make a list. This may include
- your spouse or partner (A will is particularly important if you and your partner aren’t married. In those cases, your partner won’t have the right to inherit your estate without one)
- other family members, including children and grandchildren
- charities (in your will you’ll need to include the charity’s full name, address, and registered charity number to ensure they receive the gift)
If you’re leaving assets or money to minor children or people with disabilities or mental health conditions, you may want to write the bequests into trust. This means the assets you leave to these beneficiaries can be managed by appointed people, either indefinitely or until those beneficiaries reach a certain age.
Decide how you want to divide your estate
When allocating your assets to people and charities, you can use several broad types of legacy:
- pecuniary bequest: to leave a fixed sum of money to someone. For example: “I leave my daughter £10,000.”
- specific bequest: to leave a specific item which you own to someone. Anything that meets the description of the item in your possession at your death will be given to that person. For example: “I leave my granddaughter my jewellery.”
- residuary bequest: to leave a percentage of the value of your estate (after any debts, taxes, costs, and other liabilities have been paid) to a person or charity. For example: “I leave half my estate to my son.” Or “I leave 20% of my estate to the British Red Cross.”
- revisionary bequest: to leave an asset or a sum of money to one person but to specify what happens to it or who it goes to next if that person predeceases you. For example: “I leave my home/£50,000/Picasso painting to my husband, but if he doesn’t survive me, it passes to my daughter.”
Choose your executors
Executors are the people who deal with the distribution and division of your estate after you’ve passed away. This includes collecting all the assets and money due to the estate (which may involve clearing a home and selling the property and any valuables), paying any taxes and outstanding debts, and allocating to the estate to the people specified as beneficiaries in the will.
The will will name your executor. Being an executor involves a lot of responsibility and paperwork so think carefully about who you appoint.
Check if you have to pay inheritance tax
The Inheritance Tax threshold is currently £325,000 for a single person or £650,000 for a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership. Any value of an estate above this threshold will be subject to an Inheritance Tax of 40%. You should be aware of this liability when drafting your will.
There are ways to reduce your Inheritance Tax liability, but they are complicated, and you should speak with an estate planner or other independent financial advisor about them.
Write your will
Once you’ve decided how to allocate your assets and to whom, you need to codify this by writing it into your official will.
You can have your will drawn up a number of ways:
- with the help of a solicitor or chartered legal executive. This will be the most expensive option, but lawyer will guarantee your will is watertight and help you resolve any complex financial or family affairs. You should consider using a solicitor to write your will if one or several of the following circumstances apply to you: your estate may need to pay Inheritance Tax (if it is valued over £325,000 for an individual or £650,000 for a couple); your family situation is complex, with former spouses and estranged children, and you want to ensure money goes to the people you specify; you want to protect the interest of someone, such as a minor child or a disabled family member, after you’ve died. You’ll generally pay between £150 and £300 for a will drawn up by a solicitor, with joint wills between couples being more expensive. You will generally want to select a lawyer who specialises in wills and probate and you should always check he or she is licensed with the relevant professional body, for example, the Solicitors Regulation Authority or Law Society.
- through a professional will writing service: This is the cheaper option - you’ll typically pay around £75 - and will provide you with some guidance and advice, but not as much as a solicitor would offer. Will writers aren’t qualified solicitors and may not be regulated but you can safeguard yourself by only using one that is registered with the Institute of Professional Willwriters.
- through a bank Banks: Some banks offer will writing services and estate planning advice at local branches, although they may charge high fees for these services.
- with assistance from a charity: Some charities will offer will writing services, either free or for a fee, to encourage will making and leaving charitable legacies (although you’re under no obligation to leave them money). For information check out .
- do it yourself: The cheapest, but ultimately the riskiest, way to draft a will is to DIY it. You can purchase will templates online or from a stationary store for around £10. But this is really only a sensible option if your affairs are very straightforward, for example, if a married couple wants to leave everything to the surviving spouse after the first death and then to their children in equal shares following the second death. When using one of these templates, make sure you follow all its instructions, especially with the signing and witnessing of it, or else your DIY will won’t be valid and usable.
The beginning of any will should state that you revoke all previous wills. If you have prior wills, they should be destroyed.
For any will to be valid, you must have the mental capacity to make it and understand the implications of it. You must have drawn up and signed the will voluntarily and not under pressure from anyone.
Sign your will
For your will to be valid, you must sign it in the presence of two independent witnesses, who will also then sign it. Beneficiaries of the will and their spouses or civil partners shouldn’t act as witnesses to the will, or they forfeit their right to inheritance. In fact, they shouldn’t even be present in the room when the will is being signed. it’s also preferable if the executor doesn’t at as witness either.
Storing your will in a safe place
After your will has been properly signed and witnessed, you need to store it in a place where it won’t be lost or damaged and can be easily located following your death. People typically leave their wills with a solicitor, bank, a will writing service, or with a local Probate Service. You can choose to keep your will at home but be aware that if it is damaged or destroyed, it will become useless.