Making a will

It’s very easy to put off, or not get around to, making a will. But not doing so could cause issues for family left behind. More than half of UK adults might not have a will, but here’s why you should.

It’s very easy to put off, or not get around to, making a will. But not doing so could cause issues for family left behind. More than half of UK adults might not have a will, but here’s why you should.

Debbie Thompson
Life insurance expert
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Posted 21 JANUARY 2020

What is a will?

A will is a legally binding document that sets out your wishes on how to distribute your assets, as well as the ongoing care of any children who are minors. Your will also includes the name of a person – the executor – who will manage your estate until its distribution.

How do I make a will?

The simplicity of making a will depends on your situation. The more assets that you have (and types of assets) may make things more complicated, while your personal connections and relationships will also affect it. Previous marriages, children from multiple marriage, and stepchildren can also make it more complex.

Here are the basic steps to making your will:

Understand your estate

Before you begin writing your will, you should fully understand 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 a mortgage, loans and credit card debts. This gives you the net value of your estate. Remember, the value will change constantly, which is why you may need to amend your will if your circumstances change.

Identify who you’d like to list as beneficiaries

Once you’ve figured out what you have to leave behind, you should think about who you’d like to be a beneficiary and what you’d like them to inherit. It may be as simple as leaving it all to a spouse or partner, but if you have children or other close relationships, you might want to spread your estate among them. It could be a good idea to speak to your family, as they might have suggestions you haven’t considered.

Consider legal advice

If you have a complicated financial situation, own a business, multiple properties or investments overseas, you may want to take advice from a solicitor. This naturally comes with a cost, but employing the knowledge of a professional is well worth considering in order to secure your assets.

Solicitors can also help clear up any issues regarding beneficiaries. For example, if you’ve been married more than once, or have children from separate relationships, you can ensure that each beneficiary inherits exactly what you’d like them to receive.

Assign an executor

This is a very important choice, as this person will be responsible for executing your wishes once you’ve died. This can be a complicated role, as the executor will have to oversee the entire transition of assets to each party, as well as pay off any outstanding debts and arrange any tax payments.

If you’ve already sought legal/professional help in writing your will, many solicitors will also act as an executor.

Have your will formally witnessed and signed

Your will isn’t legally binding until you have it formally witnessed and signed by two individuals over the age of 18. If you don’t do this, your will is deemed invalid, meaning your wishes may not be fulfilled.

Why do I need a will?

Making a will helps to ensure that your wealth and possessions go where you want them to when you pass away. Wills can be especially important if you’re an unmarried couple, because you’re not in a legal partnership and so aren’t entitled to inherit anything if your partner dies.

If you’re married and then divorce, you might want to edit your will to have a say on what happens to your assets if a former partner remarries.

Also, if you have children, you can say in your will who you’d like to act as a guardian for them if you pass away.

What happens if I don’t have a will?

If you die without leaving a valid will, your estate will be distributed according to a legal directive called intestacy. Basically, intestacy dictates the way that an estate is shared between a partner and family members.

Only married or civil partners, along with some other close relatives, can inherit under the terms of intestacy. Of course this may not be how you want your estate to be divided – hence the importance of making a will.

When should I make a will?

When you write your will is entirely up to you. Arguably, the sooner you write your will, the sooner you are in greater control of your assets. Your will can always be altered, so don’t feel as though you only have one chance to get it right. Your financial situation will change through life, so it makes sense for your will to change with you.

Some of the best times to consider writing a will would be once you have acquired substantial assets, such as a house, become a parent/responsible for dependants, or have chosen not to marry but still want to leave assets to your partner.

At a young age, you may think that writing a will is unnecessary, but it’s strongly recommended. Otherwise, you’ll have no control over your assets when you die.

Should I write my own will or go to a solicitor?

Writing a will can be pretty straightforward. You may not even need to go to a solicitor. There are lots of will-writing services online, and also some charities offer this as a service in exchange for a donation. That said, it's usually a good idea to seek legal advice so that you know you've done it properly.

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, which involves collecting all of the necessary paperwork and paying off debts and other costs.

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

What makes a will legally binding?

In order for a will to be valid, it must typically be:

  • Made by someone who is at least 18 years of age
  • Done without any pressure from any other person
  • Made by someone of sound mind who is fully aware of what they’re doing
  • It must be signed in writing and witnessed by two other people who also sign

If any of these stages aren’t complete, then your will may be considered invalid. As soon as the will is signed and witnessed, it’s considered a legal document and is complete. Finally, it’s worth being aware that some life insurance policies offer a free will-writing service.

Get a quote for life insurance today – and then get on with living life.

Where should you store a will?

Naturally, it’s crucial that your will is stored in a safe and secure location. If you choose to use a solicitor to help you write your will, it’s common for them to keep a copy on file for you as part of the service. There are also many paid-for services that can hold your will for you.

However, it’s also important for you to keep your own copy safe. If the solicitor or company who holds your will goes out of business, your will may be lost. You can keep a copy at home, so long as your designated executor is aware of its location and is in a place where it won’t be damaged or lost.

Can you leave money to charity in your will?

There are several ways you can make a donation to charity in your will. These include:

  • A cash donation. Simply state in your will the amount you’d like to leave and to which charity.
  • A donation of other specified assets. This could include property, vehicles or other valuables, such as jewellery.
  • Remainder of your estate. If you feel like leaving everything to a good cause, you could simply leave your whole estate behind. Costs such as tax, debts, gifts and other expenses will be deducted first.

It’s important that you’re as specific as possible when writing your will. Include the charity’s registration number and the exact amount you’d like to donate, to avoid any potential disputes. If you decide to leave a legacy with a charity, many of them will even help you write your will for free.

There are also tax benefits to leaving a charitable donation behind. If you leave a minimum of 10% of your estate to charity, the amount of inheritance tax your estate is subjected to is reduced from 40% to 36%. Any donations are also deemed exempt from your estate, so will not fall under your threshold of £325,000.

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