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.
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.
- The moral and/or legal obligations that they may have to certain people.
Online Will-writing services making writing a Will quick, easy and inexpensive. Age Space has put together a guide to the 10 best online Will-writing services. You will also find exclusive discounts for Age Space users.
Why is making 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 belonging.
- A pecuniary, or monetary legacy – a set sum of money e.g. £1,000
- The residuary estate – a share of what is left of the estate once any debts and taxes have been settled. 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 and appoint Trustees – which can be used, for example, to safeguard assets for children or grandchildren.
Your options for writing a Will
There are a range of different Will-writing services available for you to choose from. There are a 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. Other people choose to write their own Will (sometimes called DIY Wills) using a template. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and differs in price, as we will explain below.
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.
These online services are almost always cheaper than using a Solicitors’ services. Prices start from £19.99, and the whole process can take less than half an hour. Age Space has put together a guide to the best online Will-writing services, which includes exclusive discounts for Age Space users!
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.
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. This is not much more than the cost of some online Will-writing services, which are far more legally secure.
Writing a Will yourself is a low-cost option, but one that carries considerable 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.
Once the Will is written, it must be signed and dated. Two witnesses must also sign and date it, which can now also be done online. 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.
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 may 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.
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 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.
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 Coronavirus lockdown.
Because witnessing a Will in person is a challenge to people who are shielding or self-isolating, the government has announced that it is introducing legislation to allow people to use video-calling technology for the witnessing of wills, which you can read more about below.
Can a Will be Witnessed Online?
A Will can now be witnessed online. The government has announced that it is introducing legislation to allow people to use video-calling technology for the witnessing of wills. This legislation will apply to wills made since 31 January 2020.
It does not matter what video conferencing service is used, as long as ‘the person making the will and their two witnesses each have a clear line of sight of the writing of the signature.’ The making of the Will should be recorded, as evidence. You may find Age Space’s guides on setting up and using Skype and Whatsapp Video helpful.
The Will must still be signed and dated by the witnesses in person, and both witnesses must sign the same copy of the document as the Will-maker signs. There can not be counterpart documents. Witnessing pre-recorded videos of the Will being signed by the Will-maker is not permissible – the witnesses must see the Will being signed online in real-time.
For more detailed advice about online Will witnessing, you can read the Government guidance on the Gov.UK website.