26 November 2018

How to make a will

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Let’s face it, making a will is never going to be a fun job. But there are plenty of good reasons to have one– from making sure the right people inherit from you, to appointing guardians for your children and keeping any inheritance tax to a minimum. 

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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 you are responsible for and who are under 18 years of age (under 16 in Scotland), the type of funeral you want, what you want to happen to your pets, what should happen to your digital assets (such as social media, email and other online accounts) 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.

Who to use to make your will

You can either:

  • use a solicitor
  • use a professional will writer 
  • use an online will writing service 
  • write your will yourself.

You need to be careful if you decide to write your own will. It’s easy to unwittingly make a mistake which invalidates it. 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 potential inheritance tax bill.

How much does it cost?

As a rough guide, expect to pay between £150 and £240 to have a simple will drawn up by a solicitor. But the more complex your will, the more you'll pay. Costs can vary considerably so always shop around and get a few quotes first.

If your affairs are simple you could use a professional will writer. They tend to be cheaper than solicitors but aren’t regulated in the same way. If you go down this route, make sure you choose one that is either a member of The Society of Will Writers or the Institute of Professional WillwritersThe Money Advice Service guide to will writers has more information.

Online will writing services are another option for simple wills and again cost less than using a solicitor. They vary in terms of what they offer so check you understand what service you’re getting. Some will offer phone support and will check your will before you sign it.

Writing a will yourself is the cheapest option. You can buy templates from large stationers or download them online. There are also books which offer advice on how to write a will. But the general advice is to only attempt this if you circumstances are very simple. And be aware that although you’re saving money in the short term, you could be storing up trouble for later if you get it wrong.

Free or reduced-cost wills

Before you fork out any money, check to see if your employer or any trade union you’re a member of, offers any special deals. For example, some trade unions offer free will writing services for their members and, in some cases, partners too.

Alternatively you could take advantage of one of the schemes below to help you get your will written in exchange for a donation or bequest to charity.

  • 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 runs a similar scheme to Will Aid but in September each year. 
  • Free Wills Month in March and October when solicitors write simple wills for free if you’re over 55 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 those signed up to the network. There’s no obligation to leave a gift to the charity in your will, but most people do.

Getting ready to make your will

Whichever route you go down, it’s a good idea to do some preparation first. Free Wills Month and Will Aid have both produced handy planners to help you prepare for the questions your solicitor will ask you.

Finding a solicitor

The following organisations have online searches which can help you find a solicitor in your area specialising in wills.

Changing your will

Don’t forget it's a good idea to update your will as your life changes. In particular, marriage, civil partnerships and divorce affect your will in different ways so it’s essential you review it at these points.

Other major changes such as having a baby, getting separated or moving house are also good times to check your will is still relevant.

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 what’s known as a codicil. Any changes must be properly witnessed.

Storing your will

It's important to keep your will safe and to tell your executors where it is. You can just file it at home but make sure it’s in a secure and fireproof place. 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 a bank, solicitor or private will storage facility for a fee. Alternatively, if you’re in England and Wales you could lodge it with the London Probate Service for a small one-off charge.