Writing a Will is one of those things which few of us want to think about, but having one can be incredibly reassuring at the best of times, let alone under the current circumstances.
A Will is a legal document that allows a person to express their wishes for their estate after their death. In legal terms, an estate is the remaining sum of everything a person owns plus entitlements (money available to that person, such as a pension fund), after any debts and liabilities are settled.
This makes Will-writing an extremely important process – and one to be sure to get right. This complete guide to writing a Will will walk you through everything you need to consider when writing yours.
There has been a surge in Will-writing since the outbreak of Coronavirus. You can find out more about writing a Will during the Coronavirus lockdown in our Will writing FAQs.
- Who can make a Will?
- Why is writing a Will important?
- Important aspects of a Will
- Options for writing a Will
- Will writing FAQs
Who can make a Will?
A Will can be made by any person over the age of 18 who has the ability (sometimes known as testamentary capacity) to understand:
- What a Will is and what it does.
- The extent of their estate that they are passing on to their beneficiaries.
- Understand and appreciate the moral and/or legal obligations that they may have to certain people.
- Have no disorder of the mind that alters their understanding of any of the above.
Why is writing a Will important?
The preparation of a Will helps to make clear what a person’s wishes are. For example, this might include their intentions regarding financial support provided to other people, or money which is to be left to a charity.
Under a Will, various types of gifts can be made:
- A specific legacy – a gift of a specific property, asset or personal belongings such as a car or jewellery.
- A set sum of money e.g. £1,000. This is sometimes referred to as a pecuniary, or monetary legacy.
- A share of what is left of the estate once any debts and taxes have been settled. This is known as the residuary estate. For example “50% of my residuary estate” will mean 50% of all of the assets that pass under a person’s Will, after the payment of any legacies, debts and taxes.
In addition to making straightforward gifts (sometimes also referred to as absolute gifts), a Will also enables a person to:
- Express their funeral wishes (although at present these are not legally binding).
- Appoint guardians for minor children.
- Appoint Executors – the people who will be responsible for giving effect to the wishes set out in the Will, paying any taxes (including Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax and Income Tax) and ensuring that the estate is administered in accordance with the law.
- Create Trusts which can be used, for example, to safeguard assets for children or grandchildren, or give a spouse or partner the right to live in a property after your death.
- Appoint Trustees – the people who will administer any ongoing trusts in the Will.
Important aspects of a Will & considerations
1. Estate planning for Will writing
It might be helpful to prepare a list of everything that makes up the estate. An estate plan is everything you own as well as everything you may owe.
This might include:
- Joint property or assets (which will usually pass to the surviving owner, such as a husband, wife, child, or sibling)
- Assets held in trust, such as life insurance policies or pension benefits
- Physical items such as cars and jewellery
- Bonds, shares, bank account details and ISAs
- Debts and liabilities
2. Provision for financial dependents in your Will
If there are people who are financially dependent that you would like to continue to support, consider what their future needs might be. For example, care fees for a surviving spouse.
3. Naming beneficiaries in your Will
When leaving an estate to more than one beneficiary, explain how it is to be shared amongst them. This might include allocating specific sums of money, a possession, or a percentage of the estate.
4. Unexpected problems
Sadly even the best made plans are susceptible to the unexpected, so consider the possibility that a beneficiary might die before the Will is required.
5. Naming an executor in a Will
The executors of a Will are is the people responsible for paying any outstanding debts, and for distributing the estate amongst the beneficiaries.
Ideally, it is recommended to choose at least two (and up to four) executors. They are all required to act jointly in any decision which might influence who is chosen. It can be someone who is also a beneficiary, though they must be at least 18 years of age.
Executing a Will can be quite complicated, even if the estate is fairly straightforward, so consider who is most able to accomplish this task.
6. Expressing wishes in a Will
To make sure that the Will is correctly understood, the words used when writing it should be chosen carefully. This helps to ensure that the wishes set out within it are clear, without ambiguity.
7. Inheritance Tax
Inheritance tax is the tax applied to an estate after the estate holder dies, before it is passed to the beneficiaries.
It is the job of the executor(s) to make sure any inheritance tax due is paid.
The rules around inheritance tax are complicated, though there are exemptions. Gov.UK has a useful Helpsheet which explains what the limits and exemptions are. You can also find advice on inheritance tax from The Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA).
Your options for writing a Will
There are a range of different Will-writing services available for you to choose from. Some people choose to write their own Will (sometimes called DIY Wills) using a template. There are also specific Will-writing services, either online or in person, or you can decide to enlist the help of a Solicitor. Some other people choose to use the National Free Will Network, who can provide free Wills to those that donate to charity. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and differs in price, as we will explain below in this guide to .
Writing a Will yourself
A Will can be written on any piece of paper – even a napkin – and it will be valid as long as it is signed by its author, and by two independent witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the estate. More commonly, people deciding to write their own Will tend to use a DIY Will template kit to guide them. These can be purchased from high street Stationary shops such as W H Smith, or can be ordered online from shops such as Lawpack for as little as £14.99.
Writing a Will yourself is a low-cost option, but not one that is without risks. Any mistakes you make can result in the Will being invalid, and your wishes not being met after your death. The cost of any consequent legal battle can sometimes spiral beyond what the cost would have been to hire a Solicitor. We discuss DIY Wills further in Age Space Money’s podcast epsiode on Making A Will with financial wellbeing expert Jason Butler
Online Will-writing services
Online Will-writing services make the process of writing a Will easier and faster than ever before. In most cases all you need to do is enter your details online, answer some key questions online or over-the-phone, and their team will then help you to craft a Will from the comfort of your own home. You still need to sign the Will in front of 2 witnesses before it is valid.
These online services tend to be more expensive than DIY Will kits, but cheaper than using a Solicitors’ services. Below we have listed some online Will writing services that you may wish to consider.
With Farewill’s online Will service you simply need to answer some key questions and outline your intentions for your Will, which can take as little as 15 minutes. This information is then sent to their team, and their experts will return the Will to you within 5 working days, ready to sign.
- How much does it cost? For individuals this service costs £90, and you can then pay a £10 annual fee which allows you to make unlimited updates.
If you decide to use Active Wills’ Will-writing service you will be provided with a template for writing your will, and you can contact their team for support writing it whenever you need it.
- How much does it cost? A Single Will costs £99, and they include free lifetime strategy within this cost.
With Beyond’s online Will-writing service it can take as little as 15 minutes to make a Will. You will answer a series of questions online in order to put together your Will, and their online support team will provide live help to you as you go through this process. Once you are happy with the outcome, all you need to do is print the Will and sign it in front of 2 witnesses.
- How much does it cost? Their service for a single Will costs £90, and you pay only when you print and sign.
Co-Op Legal Services
With Co-Op Legal Services you just need to answer some quick questions online, and then speak on the phone to one of their Will-writers at a time that suits you, to put together the document. Once the Will is ready, they will send you a copy to sign.
- How much does it cost? £90 for a living will, £150 for a single will.
Will Drafters Ltd
Will Drafters Ltd’s Will writing service help you to express record your Will instructions through conversations on the phone, following which their specialist legal team will prepare and mail you your Will, to then sign. A good choice for those who prefer communicating on the phone rather than online.
- How much does it cost? Their prices start at £43 for a single, simple Will.
Which? will provide you with a simple guide to their Will-writing forms and process, which can take as little as half an hour to fill in if you have a simple estate. You can also contact their dedicated support team with any questions you have during the Will-writing process.
- How much does it cost? Prices start at £99 for a single Will.
To make a Will at LegalWills.co.uk, you go through a series of 9 sections, answering questions about your wishes along the way. Their experts can offer you their help with your answers at each step of the Will-making process.
- How much does it cost? Legal Wills can produce a Last Will and Testament from £39.95
With MakeMeAWill.com, you simply need to enter your contact details on their site and they will get in contact with you about the best way to put together your Will. This may be over the phone, or they can even organise to come and visit you at your home.
- How much does it cost? You will need to contact MakeMeAWill.com for a quote about your Will needs.
Using a solicitor to write your Will
Whilst a solicitor isn’t required to write a Will, they can provide an extremely important service in ensuring that the language used in the Will is clear enough to be interpreted as it was intended to be. Enlisting the help of a solicitors minimises the risk of complications that may result in your wishes not being carried out, and reduces the chance of costly legal battles later down the line.
The cost of a solicitors’ services varies, but prices tend to start at around £200 for help writing a single Will. You can search for Solicitors’ offering Will services near you using the Law Society website.
National Free Wills Network
The National Free Wills Network offers free Will-writing service to people who are known supporters of charities registered with the Network. This scheme works by the charities funding the Solicitors’ fees for their supporter’s Will. There are over 140 charities registered with the scheme, including the National Trust, Children’s Society and Dementia UK. You can find out more about this service on the National Free Wills Network website.
What makes a Will legal?
Once the Will is written, it must be signed and dated. Two witnesses must also sign and date it. The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will.
A Will can be handwritten, and is still subject to the same requirements for signatures and witnesses.
Will writing FAQs
What happens to my estate if I do not write a Will?
When a person dies without having prepared a Will, it is known as dying intestate. This means that the person who died has not expressed who benefits from their estate, and who is responsible for implementing this. Instead, there is a legal process which determines who is entitled to a share of the estate, and who may be appointed to administer the distribution of it.
Their estate will pass in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. The Intestacy Rules set out who will benefit in the event of a death and it is not uncommon for problems to arise when the Intestacy Rules are relied on.
A common issue with the Intestacy Rules is that unmarried partners, including a partner that co-habits, will not be entitled to receive any benefit from the estate. Also, step-children/step-grandchildren will not benefit – which can be an issue for couples who have children from previous relationships, particularly if their combined estate has passed to the survivor of them as the estate will only pass to the survivor’s children.
GOV.UK has a helpful guide to help work out who is entitled in the event of intestacy.
Sorting out the estate of someone who has died without a Will can take a lot longer than if they did have one. It is more difficult to uncover all of the assets held by the deceased person, and the additional court processes required means that less of the estate is left to distribute once the fees have been paid.
Because an executor has not been appointed by the deceased person, one will be appointed, known as an administrator.
The administrator (or personal representative) will usually be a close relative of the person who has died. Who the administrator is will be determined by a set order of priority which a solicitor can advise on.
The Money Advice Service has Help Sheets which explain what to do when someone dies without a Will.
Where should my Will be stored?
Your Will should be stored in a safe place – either at home or with the bank/solicitor. There are also companies that store Wills. Be sure to tell the executors where the Will is kept.
What is a Letter of Wishes?
A Letter of Wishes can sometimes accompany a Will. Though it is not a legally binding document, it can be used to guide the people administering the estate. For example, it may contain advice that might help the trustees to manage a Trust.
Whilst a Will can be made public as it goes through the legal processes, a Letter of Wishes remains confidential.
If there is a Will, do I still need probate?
Probate is the legal process which allows the executors (or administrators) to be able to finalise and then distribute the estate, and must be applied for after a person dies.
Once granted, a Grant of Probate is used to demonstrate that the executors have permission to carry out their role. For example, the bank where the deceased person held a bank account will require evidence of probate before transferring any funds under the direction of the executor.
The Will is an expression of what the deceased person wishes to happen to their estate. Probate is the legal permission given by the courts to the executors to enact these wishes.
There are exemptions to probate, such as a bank account where the account balance is a low amount. Whether or not probate is required to execute the Will, depends on the assets held by the estate.
Can I make a Will during the Coronavirus lockdown?
A Will is only valid if it is signed by the person writing it, and two independent witnesses. This is still the case during the current Coronavirus lockdown. As explained above, a Will is valid whatever it is written on as long as it is signed by the person writing it, and by two independent witnesses.
Solicitors are finding ingenious ways to deliver this service for those wanting a bespoke Will, in spite of self-isolation measures.
If the affairs are relatively straightforward, an online Will is valid – although it still needs to be signed in person by two witnesses.
Bonus tip: Other measures to express your intent
There are a number of other measures you may wish to consider when writing a Will. These include: