How to write a will

Writing a will is an important financial task, as it sets out what happens to your money and other assets when you die. It can ease the burden for those who are left behind to deal with your affairs at a very difficult time.

Your will may also be used to reduce liability to inheritance tax (IHT), and specify who will become the legal guardian of any children or grandchildren if you aren’t around. Without a will, there are strict rules on how your money and property are handed out which can mean that those who you would want to benefit, won’t. This means that changes to your circumstances such as re-marrying make it particularly important to plan how you want to pass on your wealth.

You can find out more about why making a will is important in our guide The Importance of writing a will.

Where's the best place to get my will drafted?

There are three main ways you can write a will:
  • Use a template bought online or from a stationery shop to write your own will
  • Use a professional will-writing service
  • See a solicitor
There are pros and cons with each different method – for example using a template can be the lowest cost option, but leaves you and your family with no protection if it goes wrong and you won’t have anyone to help if things aren’t entirely clear. In contrast, using a solicitor comes at a cost but will ensure your will is legally binding, with recourse to the Legal Ombudsman if they make a mistake or you are left unhappy with the service you received. Alternatively, you could write the will yourself and get it reviewed by a professional to check its validity, or simply use a respected professional will-writing service. Here we take a look at the three main will-writing options in more detail.

Using a template to create your will

You can write your own will using a ready-made template, but this is probably only sensible if your financial situation is particularly straightforward and your wishes are simple; for example, if you’re married and you are leaving everything to your spouse. However, if you have a complex family set up, with stepchildren, say, or you’re not married, you would be wise to use a will-writing service or solicitor to ensure everything is accounted for as you wish and that your will is legally binding. There are plenty of templates that can be downloaded online. For example, you can get one for free from legal advice site Compact Law.  Alternatively, Lawpack offers one for £19.99, and Your Will be Done charges £27 for a single will, and £37 for a couples will. Meanwhile, large stationers also sell templates. For example, WH Smith charges £22.99 for its will pack. If you are writing your will yourself remember that it can be easy to make a mistake, such as not detailing your assets in a clear enough manner, or incorrectly spelling names. Just because there are plenty of cheap and readily available will templates does not mean it is a good idea to write your own will without any help from a professional – so consider your situation carefully and if in doubt seek help.

Using a will-writing service

If you’d like some guidance on writing your will, but don’t want to see a solicitor in person or pay for the full cost of legal advice, then you could consider a will-writing service. If your situation is fairly straightforward, such as leaving everything to your family and your estate consisting of savings and your property, rather than a business or overseas assets, for example, this could be a good option.

Prices typically start at under £100, and you can usually complete a basic will online, which is checked by specialists to ensure its validity. Alternatively, some services allow you to answer a series of simple questions, and the will is then written and checked on your behalf.

It’s important to remember that whilst many companies have deservedly built up a strong reputation, some will-writing services have specialists checking the wills, rather than legal professionals, and so you could have limited protection compared to using a regulated firm of solicitors.

It’s also worth checking if the service is a member of a professional body and complies with their codes of conduct, such as the Society of Will Writers (SWW); the Institute of Professional Will Writers (IPW) or the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. However, bear in mind that these bodies simply lay out best practise guidelines to be adhered to, rather than being official regulators.

Finding a will writing service

Online providers Beyond and Farewill charge £90 for a single will. Beyond charges £135 for a joint will, while Farewell charges £140. (NB. Beyond offer Rest Less members a discount of 15% from this price with code REST15 at the checkout). Consumer champion Which? offers several different types of will-writing service, costing between £99 to £189, depending on how much help you need. Alternatively, you may find you have access to a will-writing service through your home insurance policy, if you chose to include legal cover when you took this out. Costs could rise depending on the service you choose and the complexity of your affairs. Remember to ask if there are any additional fees if you want to make changes in the future.

Using a solicitor to write your will

A solicitor can write your will for you following a face-to-face or telephone meeting, ensure it’s valid and check everything is in order so that your wishes will be met on your death. While it may be more expensive, this option can give you peace of mind that complications won’t arise after your death and your wishes are clear.

Using a solicitor may be particularly important if, for example:

  • Your estate will be liable to inheritance tax, and you’d like to look for ways to minimise this tax liability and leave more to your loved ones;
  • You have a complex family set-up, such as children from previous marriages;
  • You have assets that may be subject to different rules, such as an overseas property;

If you’re a member of a trade union, such as Unison or the Fire Brigades Union, check if you can get a will drawn up by a solicitor for free. Some charities such as Cancer Research and Alzheimer’s Research UK offer low-cost or free, simple will-writing by solicitors. They do this because most people who do will leave a gift to the charity in their will so if you wish to leave a gift to a particular charity in your will, see if it runs a scheme to help you write your will.

You may also want to take advantage of Free Wills Month in March and October, a scheme supported by charities such as the Stroke Association, the Royal British Legion and Marie Curie. It enables you to get a free will written by a solicitor if you’re aged 55 or over and you’ve yet to write a will, or need one updating. You can find out more about Free Wills Month in our guide Getting a free will.

Finding a solicitor

If you need to find a solicitor yourself, you can do so on the Law Society’s database – it can be helpful to search for one who specialises in wills and probate, rather than a more generalist lawyer. Older and vulnerable people can get specialist legal advice from Solicitors for the Elderly.

How much you’ll pay

The cost will depend on the complexity of your affairs, but expect to pay from a few hundred pounds to over £1,000, depending on your estate and the solicitor you use. If you are putting assets into trust, say, to minimise inheritance tax (IHT), the cost will be greater. You discuss exactly what you want and how to avoid any doubt.

How do I get started writing my will?

However you choose to make your will, before you get started you’ll need to gather together various bits of information, and consider how you want your assets dealt with after you die.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to how to write a will.

Step one: Find all the information you’ll need

Start by drawing up a list of all your assets, including:

  • Your home, and any other property you own

  • Your bank accounts and cash savings

  • Shares, ISAs and other investments

  • Any pensions you have

  • Your insurance policies, such as life cover

  • Any business assets

  • Cars you own

  • Any valuable possessions you have, such as jewellery, antiques and other items you want to pass on to your loved ones when you die

Step two: Think about who you want to inherit your estate

Once you have a list of all your assets and possessions, you need to consider who you want to leave these too on your death, and what proportion you want them to have. As a starting point, it can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want to leave certain sentimental items, such as jewellery or antiques, to particular people?

  • What do you want to happen to any money that will be left over after paying all liabilities, including funeral costs and inheritance tax?

  • What do you want to happen to the family home (if there is one)?

  • What if any of your beneficiaries die before you? Who gets the assets then?

  • Do you want to leave a donation to charity? If so, you’ll need to include the charity’s name, address and registered charity number. Charity donations are free from IHT.

Step three: Choose your executors

You need to consider who will carry out the administration of your estate after you die. Typically, you choose two executors to include in your will, and they may be family, friends or your solicitor. When you’re making the decision, remember that this can be a big task, so you’ll want to let them know and get their agreement before naming them in your will.

Beware of any services that give a solicitor or will-writing service the right to administer your estate. Some may offer to act as a joint executor, for example, but charge a fee or percentage of your estate for doing so, even if the process is likely to be simple. Ideally, choose and appoint your own executors.

Step four: Consider additional requests

It’s worth taking a bit of time to consider anything you might want to add to your will before it’s drawn up. You can add your funeral wishes, for example, and any conditions for inheritance to your will. For example, this may include that you don’t want your children to inherit a particular sum until they reach age 21. You may also choose to name a legal guardian for any dependent children or grandchildren in your care should they be aged under 18 when you die.

Step five: Write your will

Once you’ve gathered a list of your assets, and given some thought to who you want to leave these to, and who you might want to act as your executors, you can now decide how you want to go about writing your will.

Step six: Sign your will in front of a witness

There are various conditions that must be met for your will to be valid:

  • Start by stating that the will replaces all previous wills;

  • Both yourself and two independent witnesses over the age of 18 – who do not stand to gain from the will – must sign the will;

  • If you can’t physically sign the will it may be signed on your behalf, provided you’re in the room at the time and there’s a clause saying you understand the will’s implications;

  • You must have the mental capacity to understand the implications of your will;

  • Your will must be written voluntarily, so without pressure from anyone else.

Step seven: Store your will

It’s important to store the original copy of your will securely, and crucially let your executors know where to find it. If you’ve used a solicitor, you may store your will with them for free. A will-writing service may also store your will (check the service to see if there are any additional charges) . Otherwise, you could use the Probate Service (find your local service through Gov.uk), which charges a £20 fee. Make sure you also keep a copy yourself.

Ensure you let your executors know where your will is kept. Avoid attaching any documents to your will using staples, for example. If they become detached this could raise concerns over whether a part of your will is missing.

Step eight: Review your will if your circumstances change

You should review your will after every major life change, such as having a grandchild, divorcing or getting remarried, as you may want to cancel a previous will. If you get divorced, this won’t automatically revoke your will, but any generic clauses mentioning your spouse will no longer be valid. Given the uncertainty, it’s almost always worth getting a new will done to avoid any potential problems and arguments for your family down the line.

Alternatively, you can make alterations using a supplementary document called a ‘codicil’, which will also need to be signed and witnessed. These enable you to add in small bits of additional information to your existing will without changing the entire document. If however you need to make major alterations, you’ll need to make a new will.

Final thought...

Whichever route you choose to create or update your will, the most important thing is that you do. Most of us can look forward to decades of active years ahead, but the effort of getting your will sorted now is such a small price to pay for lasting peace of mind.

Have you recently got your will sorted? Or have you used a particularly good service? We’d love to hear from you at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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