How to make a will
Last reviewed on 10 June 2016
What is a will?
A will is a legal document which sets out who is to receive your property and possessions (your estate) when you die. You can also include details of who is to look after any children under 18 years of age (under 16 in Scotland) you are responsible for, the type of funeral you want and who you want your executors to be.
Executors are the people responsible for making sure your estate is passed on to the people named in your will and that any other wishes in your will are carried out. If you don't name an executor (ideally two) the courts can appoint an administrator to do this.
How to make a will
You can either use a solicitor or write your will yourself, although you need to be careful if you opt for the latter as there are pitfalls which can result in your will being invalid. A solicitor can ensure your will is clear and legally valid and may also offer advice on how to make it tax-efficient by reducing any Inheritance Tax bill, using trusts and gifting.
As a rough guide, it typically costs between £150 and £300 to have your will drawn up by a solicitor. But the more complex your will, the more you'll pay. Costs can vary quite considerably between solicitors so always shop around and get a few quotes first.
Keep an eye out for Will Aid month in November when solicitors agree to write your will for free in exchange for a donation to charity (suggested donation of £95 for a single will). Will Relief Scotland operates a similar scheme in September each year. And if you’re over 55 you could take advantage of Free Wills Month in March and October where solicitors agree to write simple wills for free and in exchange ask you to leave something in your will to charity.
If you’re a supporter of a charity you may be able to get a simple will written for free through the National Free Wills Network providing the charity is one of the 50 signed up to the network. There’s no obligation to leave a gift to the charity in your will, but most people do so.
If you decide on the DIY route there are several options.
- Buy a will form from a large stationers and fill it in.
- Download a will template and fill it in.
- Use an online will writing service, which costs from around £35.
You can also buy books which offer advice on how to write a will.
Changing your will
It's a good idea to regularly review your will as your life changes. You could review it every five years or after a major change in your life such as having a baby, getting married, divorced or separated, or moving home.
If you marry or enter into a civil partnership this invalidates any existing will you have. If you divorce your will remains valid but your ex-spouse cannot inherit or act as your executor so you may need to appoint a new executor and decide who you want to inherit from you instead. Separation doesn't affect your will.
If you want to change your will you can either make a new one (which will revoke any previous will you have made) or alter the existing one by adding codicils. Any changes must be properly witnessed.
Storing your will
It's important to keep your will safe and to tell someone you trust where it is. If a solicitor draws up your will they will usually keep the original and send you a copy. If you have written it yourself you could store it with one of the following for a small fee:
- a solicitor
- a bank
- a storage facility. There are a number of private companies which offer insured storage facilities for wills
- the Principal Probate Registry at the High Court if you're in England and Wales (cost £20). For more details call 020 7947 6000/7022 or write to The Probate Department, The Principal Registry of the Family Division, The Principal Probate Registry, 7th Floor, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP
- In Northern Ireland wills can be deposited with The Probate Office, Royal Courts of Justice, Chichester Street, Belfast BT1 3JF (Tel: 028 9072 4678) or District Probate Office, The Court House, Bishop Street, Londonderry BT48 6PY (Tel: 028 7126 1832).
Alternatively, you could store it in a safe place at home in a fireproof box.
Making sure it's legal
For a will to be legally valid, the person making it must be 18 or over (exceptions apply in the armed forces and Scotland) and of sound mind which means they must understand what they are doing. The will must be made voluntarily with no pressure from any other person. It must be in writing and signed by the person making the will (known as the testator) in the presence of two witnesses (you only need one in Scotland). The witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator after he or she has signed it. Witnesses and their married or civil partners cannot benefit from the will. If the witness (or their married or civil partner) is a beneficiary, the will is still valid but they will not inherit.
Witnesses must be 18 years of age (16 in Scotland) or older, capable of understanding what they are doing and not blind.
If you own property abroad then what happens to it when you die depends on the laws in that country. So you need to make a separate will in that country to cover the foreign property. You should mention this will in your main UK will. There may be various tax implications with your overseas property so, if you own property abroad, it's a good idea to seek professional advice when drawing up your will.
The law in Scotland is different to English law so while much of the above applies to Scotland, there are major differences including the following:
- the intestacy rules are different
- anyone over the age of 12 can make a will
- you usually only need one person to witness your will
- the person making the will must sign every page of the will in the presence of the witness
- a witness can be a beneficiary but it's not generally recommended
- marriage and divorce have no effect on your will.
The following organisations can provide you with more information: