How and when to make a will

It’s very easy to put off, or not get around to making a will. However, not doing so could cause big issues for family left behind. That’s why it’s important to find the time to arrange getting a will written. If you do already have one, keeping it up to date is also important.

Along with life insurance, having a will helps protect your loved ones if something were to happen to you.

What is a will?

A will is a legally binding document that sets out your wishes about how you want to distribute your assets as well as the care of any children who are minors. 

Why do you need a will?

Making a will helps ensure that your wealth and possessions will go to the people you really want to have them when you pass away. Wills can be especially important if you’re an unmarried couple or have estranged children. The reason for this is included below.

What happens if you don’t have a will? 

If you die without leaving a will, your estate will be distributed according to rules defined in law as intestacy.

Only married or civil partners along with some other close relatives can inherit under the terms of intestacy. Common law partners have no right to inherit under intestacy.

Essentially, intestacy dictates the way that an estate is shared between a partner and family members. Of course this may not be how you want it to be divided – hence the importance of a will.

What to do before you start writing a will

Before you begin writing you need a full understanding of your assets and your debts. Your assets include any property, savings, shares and investments, pensions, life insurance policies and other belongings. Your debts include anything you owe such as mortgages, loans and credit card debts.

This gives you the net value of your estate. Remember it will change constantly which is why you may need to change your will if it materially changes.

Now think about who you want to benefit from your will financially. Also you may need to think about different scenarios – for example, who would you want to be responsible for your children if you both passed away?

Should you write it yourself or go to a solicitor?

If you're worrying about how to write a will, don't, it's very straightforward. In fact, technically, you don't need to go to a solicitor to do it. It’s possible to buy a will writing kit online and also some charities offer this as a service in exchange for a donation.

However, it's usually a good idea to seek legal advice so that you know you've done it properly. This is particularly true if you have children, as you have their care and futures to consider too.

You’ll need to decide who will act as the executor – the person or people responsible for carrying out the wishes and for sorting out the estate. It can be a big job involving collecting all the necessary paperwork and paying off debts and other costs.

If you have a complicated family situation, perhaps with previous marriages and stepchildren, this may also need special attention. There are solicitors that specialise in wills.

What makes a will legally binding? 

In order for a will to be valid, it must be –

  • Made by a person who is 18 years old or over
  • Made without any pressure from any other person
  • Made by a person who is of sound mind and fully aware of what they are doing
  • It must be signed in writing and witnessed by two witnesses who also sign

As soon as the will is signed and witnessed, it is complete.

As you can see it makes a lot of sense to get your will written up. If something does happen to you, you'll want things to go as smoothly as possible for your loved ones. With a will, you can prevent them having to deal with a tangle of finances and disagreements. Some life insurance policies even offer a free will service, making it even easier. Write a will, file it, let your executors know where it is and then you can get on with living your life.

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