Writing a will to set out who you want your money and assets to go to when you pass away might seem relatively straightforward, but it’s common for people to make mistakes in the process.
Unfortunately, making even a simple error could invalidate your will and cause delays and extra costs for those left to deal with your estate after you’re gone. This can be stressful and time-consuming, and you don’t want to add further difficulties or confusion over your wishes at what’s already likely to be a challenging and upsetting time for your family and friends.
Here, we run through some of the most common mistakes people make when they’re writing their will, and outline some of the steps you can take to safeguard against them.
- Mistake 1: Your will is incorrectly witnessed or signed
- Mistake 2: Your will isn’t clear enough
- Mistake 3: Your will hasn’t been updated
- Mistake 4: You presume your pension is covered by your will
- Mistake 5: You don’t consider your digital assets
- Mistake 6: You don’t complete your will
- Mistake 7: Choosing the wrong person as an executor
Mistake 1: Your will is incorrectly witnessed or signed
There are various conditions that must be met for your will to be valid. These include that it must be signed by both you and two independent witnesses over the age of 18 – who do not stand to gain from the will. When you pass away, your witnesses are those people who are able to state that your will was made by you and belonged to you. Read more in our guide How to write a will.
If you’re unable to sign the will because of a disability or illness, you can ask someone else to do this on your behalf, provided that you’re in the room at the time and there’s a clause saying you fully understand the will’s implications.
Tony Tobin, Rest Less wills expert, said: “If you fail to sign your will, or you didn’t use witnesses, your will may be challenged or completely invalidated. In this scenario, your estate will fall under the ‘intestacy’ rules, meaning that your money and assets will be distributed according to certain rules, which may not be as you’d wish.”
You can find out more about what happens if someone dies without a will in our guide Sorting out an estate when someone dies without a will.
Mistake 2: Your will isn’t clear enough
It’s vital that your will contains specific instructions so that nothing can be left open to interpretation, or this could result in disputes later on.
“You must be clear when it comes to who will inherit what,” said Mr Tobin. “For example, you need to specify particular items of value such as jewellery or antiques, rather than simply using phrases such as ‘personal possessions’ when referring to your belongings in your will.”
Make sure you add some detail, such as ‘single diamond ring’, or ‘vintage record collection’ too, so items can be easily identified. The aim is to avoid leaving any room for doubt when it comes to how you want your money and possessions distributed on your death.
Mistake 3: Your will hasn’t been updated
You should update your will following any major life changes. If, for example, you get married, divorced, or have children, it’s important to amend your will to reflect your new circumstances. However, many people fail to do this, and simply forget about their will once it’s done and filed away, meaning it may no longer be appropriate for their current family set-up.
Mr Tobin said: “Generally, it’s sensible to review your will every five or so years, or whenever your circumstances change. Buying a new property or moving abroad may also be reasons to update your will, for example.
“If you want to make small changes to your will, you could write a ‘codicil’, which is a legal document that enables you to make small changes to your will.”
You can learn more about codicils in our guide Changing a will: what is a codicil and when do you need one?
Mistake 4: You presume your pension is covered by your will
Most pensions don’t form part of your estate, and therefore they won’t be covered by your will. Even if you name a pension beneficiary in your will, your provider makes the final decision about whoever will inherit your pension. Usually, this is based on whoever’s named in your ‘expression of wishes’ form, which you can get from your pension provider and you should make sure you’ve completed.
Mr Tobin said: “Problems may arise, for example, if you get divorced. Even if your former spouse is written out of your will, they may still receive the money if they are considered to be the rightful beneficiary by your provider. Their name might still be on the beneficiary or expression of wishes form if this hasn’t been updated, and this takes precedence over what’s written in your will.”
Mistake 5: You don’t consider your digital assets
Writing your will to set out what happens to your money, property and possessions when you die is an important task. But these days, you also need to consider anything you store online that holds value, and which your executors will need to access to. This may include accounts on trading apps, for example, and other assets stored online such as photographs and music collections.
“A will expert can advise on how best to include digital assets in your will when you write or update this to ensure that they are passed on in accordance with your wishes,” said Mr Tobin.
Mistake 6: You don’t complete your will
Perhaps you’ve started, but forgotten to complete your will, which means it won’t be legally valid. However, making a will is one of the most important things you can do for your family to ease their burden at a difficult time. Read more in our article The importance of writing a will.
Writing a will can avoid disagreements among family and even court cases in the worst cases. As mentioned, there are specific legal rules as to what would happen to your assets and care of any children if you were to die without a will, which may not be in line with your wishes.
A will can also include details of your assets and where to find them, making things much easier for your family to find paperwork, and ensure they have everything they need to sort out your estate. You can find out more in our guide Getting your affairs in order: how to help your loved ones.
It’s also important to remember that anyone with assets over the inheritance tax threshold of £325,000 could benefit from making a will as it can help ensure you don’t end up paying more tax than necessary. Read more in our article Understanding Inheritance Tax.
Mistake 7: Choosing the wrong person as an executor
An executor is in charge of the process known as ‘probate’, which can sometimes take months or even years to complete after your death. Read more in our guides What to do when someone dies and What is probate?
The role of executor can be challenging and time-consuming so many people choose to appoint two to share the burden. It involves a wide range of tasks, such as valuing and distributing assets to beneficiaries, and making sure that your personal funeral or burial wishes are carried out after your death.
A common mistake some people make when writing their will is simply choosing the person they are closest to as an executor, without giving thought to whether they are capable or willing to take on this role. Most importantly, they should be responsible and trustworthy individuals with some ability to manage financial affairs.
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