Writing a Will is one of those things which few of us want to think about. If your elderly relatives don’t have a Will when they die, it will most likely mean greater administration and time, as well as emotional upset sorting out their affairs.
Writing a Will need not be complicated or costly. This complete guide to writing a Will includes things to consider, how best to write a Will, organisations that can help. We also answer common questions.
What is a Will
A Will allows a person to express their wishes for the dispersal of everything they own – 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. A Will allows a person to direct where and to whom these assets get left and how this is to be done. If the Will is written properly and witnessed (by people who do not benefit from the Will), then it should be legally binding, and enable the distribution of someone’s wishes after they die.
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 they are passing on to their beneficiaries.
- The moral and/or legal obligations that they may have to certain people.
If you don't feel comfortable making a Will on your own, you have different choices. You can use a solicitor, or for example, an online Will-writing service. We have researched 10 of the best online Will-writing services.
Why is making a Will important?
The preparation of a Will helps to make clear what a person’s wishes are after their death. For example, this might include their intentions regarding financial support provided to others, or money which is to be left to a charity. There are various different ways of recognising beneficiaries in a Will.
Straightforward Gifts (or Absolute Gifts)
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.
A Will also enables a person to
Express their funeral wishes
Although, at present these are not legally binding.
Appoint guardians for minor children
Children under the age of 18 can be designated a guardian.
The people who will be responsible for carrying out the deceased's wishes as 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.
Set up Trusts
Set up trusts and appoint trustees e.g. to safeguard assets for children/grandchildren to access in later life
Options for writing a Will
There are different Will-writing services available to choose from; Will-writing services are available, either online or in person, or you can employ a Solicitor. The National Free Will Network provides “free” Will-writing services to those who make a donation to charity in order to make use of the service.
Other people choose to write their own Will (sometimes called DIY Wills) using a template. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. For a full breakdown of costs visit our page on how much it costs to make a Will.
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 can start from as little as £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 readers!
Read our Guide to 10 of the Best Online Will Services and see what discounts are available.
Whilst a solicitor isn’t required to write a Will, they are of course experts in ensuring the legality of such documents.
Using the expertise of a solicitor, particularly if the estate is complex, can help ensure that it is easier to interpret and execute when the time comes.
Using a solicitor to write your Will
The costs of using a solicitor will vary depending upon the complexity of the will.
Writing a Will is only part of the potential process for a solicitor as it is probate and the distribution of the Will where they are able to make their money. There is no obligation to retain the same solicitor for the distribution however.
The cost of a solicitors’ services will vary, 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 a free Will-writing service to people who are known supporters of charities registered with the Network. The charities pay the Solicitors’ fees for their supporter’s Will and in return benefit from legacy fundraising. 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 stationery shops or can be ordered online from shops such as Lawpack for as little as £14.99. This is an alternative to an online Will-writing service, but the onus is on the individual writing the Will to ensure it is correct.
Writing a Will yourself is a low-cost option, but one that potentially carries risks – such as an invalid Will or wishes not being met after death.
If you do wish to write a Will yourself, we still would recommend asking a Solicitor to go over it with you before it is signed. We discuss DIY Wills further in our podcast – ‘Making A Will‘ with financial wellbeing expert Jason Butler.
Once a Will is written, it must be signed and dated. Two witnesses must also sign and date it, which can now 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.
Ashton Answers: Will-Writing FAQs
What do I need to consider when writing a Will?
Visit Age Space's guide to the 10 considerations when Writing a Will.
Where should my Will be stored?
Your Will should be stored in a safe place – either at home, with your bank or solicitor. There might be a cost associated with both options, however storage might be included in the solicitors cost. There are also companies that store Wills. Be sure to tell the executors or leave details as to 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. Find out more about what this means on our guide to what happens if 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?
Yes, you do. 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 allowing the executors to enact these wishes.
Whether or not probate is required to execute the Will, depends on the assets held by the estate. There are exemptions to probate, for example, when a bank account balance is a very low amount.
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.