How to make a Will

How to Make a Will

A Step-by-Step Guide to Securing Your Legacy

Understanding how to make a will is an essential step in managing your affairs and ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. It’s a process that enables you to decide exactly who will inherit your property, money, and possessions, making it a vital document for peace of mind. Writing a will can also make things much simpler and clearer for your loved ones during a difficult time, potentially reducing any additional stress and confusion.

To begin making a will, it’s important to take stock of your assets and debts, identify beneficiaries, and think about who you would like to appoint as the executor – the person responsible for administering your estate. It’s crucial that the will meets all legal requirements to be valid; otherwise, it could be contested, leading to family disputes. Given the potential complexities, many opt for professional advice to navigate the intricacies of estate law and ensure their will accurately reflects their intentions.

Key Takeaways

  • A will is essential for directing the distribution of your estate and can ease the burden on loved ones.
  • The process includes assessing assets, appointing an executor, and understanding legal requisites.
  • Professional guidance on how to make a Will is advisable to ensure your will is legally valid and your wishes are clear.

How to make a Will – Understanding Wills

When preparing for the future, understanding the intricacies of wills is crucial. They are legal documents that ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your passing.

Definition and Importance

will, at its core, is a legal document where you detail how you would like your estate to be handled after you die. It’s imperative to have a clear, legally recognised will to prevent disputes and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your preferences. Without a will, your estate might be divided under the rules of intestacy, which may not align with your wishes.

Types of Wills

There are several types of wills that cater to different needs and circumstances:

  • Simple Wills: Typically for individuals with straightforward estate circumstances.
  • Joint Wills: Created by two people, usually spouses, where they agree on a mutual distribution of assets.
  • Living Wills: Address your preferences in terms of medical care, should you become unable to communicate them yourself.
  • Testamentary Trust Wills: Incorporate trusts for managing your estate’s assets for beneficiaries.

Each type of will serves unique purposes and carries its own set of legal requirements and complexities. It is advised to seek legal counsel when choosing the will most suited to your situation, whether it’s a simple will or one involving more complex arrangements, such as a testamentary trust will.

How to make a Will – Preparation for Writing a Will

Before drafting your will, it’s essential to have a comprehensive understanding of your assets and the people you wish to inherit them. The process requires careful consideration to ensure your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

Asset Inventory

Begin by creating a detailed inventory of your assets. This includes both tangible and intangible assets. For tangible assets, list your property, vehicles, jewellery, and any other personal belongings of value. Intangible assets should include savings accounts, stocks, bonds, pension plans, and life insurance policies. For each asset, note its approximate value, location, and any relevant account numbers or legal documents.

  • Property: Homes, land, rental properties.
  • Personal Possessions: Cars, art, jewellery.
  • Financial Assets: Savings accounts, stocks, bonds.
  • Retirement Plans: Pension funds, Self Invested Pension Plans (SIPP)
  • Life Insurance: Policies and corresponding details.

Beneficiary Designations

Next, you’ll need to designate beneficiaries for each asset. Consider who you want to inherit your assets, including primary and contingent beneficiaries. Keep in mind that some assets, like insurance policies and retirement accounts, often have beneficiaries already assigned, so you’ll want to ensure these designations align with your will.

  • Primary Beneficiaries: First in line to inherit.
  • Contingent Beneficiaries: Inherit if the primary beneficiary can’t.

It’s crucial that the names of your beneficiaries are spelt correctly and clearly identified with their current contact information. Remember to review and update your beneficiary designations periodically or when life changes occur.

How to make a Will – Choosing the Executor

When you make a will, selecting an executor is a pivotal decision. This individual will be tasked with managing your estate, adhering to the directives of your will, and ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Responsibilities of an Executor

The executor has a range of duties, which include:

  • Identifying and gathering assets: Your executor will locate all your financial assets and property.
  • Paying off debts: Any liabilities or debts you leave behind will need to be settled from the estate.
  • Distributing the estate: Following your will’s instructions, the executor will allocate your assets to the beneficiaries.
  • Legal proceedings: Where necessary, they may need to handle probate, the legal process validating your will.

It’s a role requiring thoroughness and integrity, as highlighted by the MoneyHelper website.

Selecting a Suitable Executor

Choose an executor by considering:

  1. Trustworthiness: Can they be relied upon to carry out your wishes?
  2. Organisational skills: Are they capable of managing complex tasks efficiently?
  3. Willingness: Do they agree to take on this responsibility? It’s essential to discuss this role with the potential executor before finalising your will. Remember, up to four executors can act jointly, but managing too many can become impractical.

How to make a Will – Legal Requirements

When making your will, it’s essential to comply with specific legal requirements to ensure it’s valid. Failing to do so may render your will void and your estate could be distributed in a way that doesn’t reflect your wishes.

Witness Criteria

Your will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, both of whom are over 18 years of age. These witnesses cannot be beneficiaries in the will or married to a beneficiary, as this could invalidate their entitlement. Each witness must observe you signing the will and then sign it themselves to confirm your signature.

Will Validation Processes

For a will to be legally recognised, it must be written and signed by you, the testator, while you are of sound mind, and not under any undue influence. The will should explicitly distribute your assets and may appoint an executor. It must adhere to the laws of England and Wales, and for added assurance, you may register it or have it checked by a legal professional.

Writing the Will

When crafting your will, it’s crucial to clearly articulate your wishes and appoint trusted guardians if necessary. This ensures that your estate is managed and distributed according to your preferences.

Clarity in Bequests

Assets: List your assets comprehensively, including property, bank accounts, and personal items. Use clear descriptions to avoid ambiguity.

  • Monetary Bequests: Specify exact amounts and the beneficiaries clearly, for example:
    • £10,000 to your daughter, Jane Smith.
    • £5,000 to your friend, John Doe.

Physical Items: Describe items distinctly to prevent confusion. If necessary, include serial numbers or unique identifiers.

  • Specific Legacies: State who receives individual items, for example:
    • Your antique grandfather clock to your nephew, Michael Brown.
    • Your jewellery collection to your granddaughter, Emily Green.

Appointment of Guardians

If you have children under 18, nominating a guardian is one of the most critical decisions.

  • Primary Guardian: State the full name and relationship to your children, for instance, “I appoint my sister, Elizabeth Johnson, as the guardian.”
  • Alternate Options: Should the primary guardian be unable to serve, select an alternative, for example, “Should Elizabeth be unwilling or unable, I appoint my brother, Thomas Johnson, as substitute guardian.”

By addressing these details with precision, your will is more likely to reflect your true intentions and stand up to legal scrutiny. For more detailed guidelines on will writing, proper witnessing, and other requirements, you may visit the UK government’s advice on writing your will or seek guidance from Citizens Advice.

Securing the Will

After finalising your will, ensuring its security and confidentiality is paramount. This goes beyond simply choosing a safe spot; it requires strategic planning to ensure that your will is protected yet accessible to the right individuals when necessary.

Storage Options

At Home: You might opt to store your will at home in a lockable filing cabinet or safe. However, it’s crucial that someone you trust knows the exact location and how to access it in the event of your death.

With a Solicitor: Many choose to leave their will with a solicitor for safekeeping. Solicitors often offer secure storage facilities specifically for this purpose and will ensure your will is safe from theft, loss or damage.

At a Bank: Some banks provide safety deposit boxes suitable for storing important documents like wills. Be aware that accessing the will might be difficult outside of banking hours or without the correct authorisation. We do NOT recommend this way as banks often can’t open deposit boxes with out a grant of probate, which you can’t get without a Will!

The Principal Registry of the Family Division: Your will can be stored with the court service. For a small fee, they will keep your will safe, and it can only be accessed or retrieved by you or, upon your death, someone with the proper authority.

With Xwills.com : For only £4/month, that’s less than 15p a day you can store your Will in a fireproof/floodproof location and have your Will registered at the National Will Register so your Executors can find it easily.

Access and Confidentiality

Granting Access: Explicitly designate who has permission to access your will. Typically, this should be the executor(s) named in your will. Ensure they are aware of the location and any necessary procedures to retrieve the document.

Maintaining Confidentiality: Limit knowledge of your will’s contents and storage to essential parties only. This generally includes your solicitor and the executor(s). Remember, the details of your will are private and should be disclosed at your discretion.

Your will is a key document; treat it with utmost care. Make sure your chosen storage option balances accessibility with security to uphold the integrity of your final wishes.

Regular Updating and Revisions

When drafting your will, understand it is not a static document. Life changes, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or the acquisition of significant assets, necessitate reviewing and updating your will to reflect your current wishes and circumstances.

  • Marriage or Divorce: These major life events automatically alter the distribution of your estate. Updating your will ensures it aligns with your wishes post such changes. If you have recently married, consider rewriting your will, as marriage can invalidate an existing will, depending on where you live.

  • Changes in Assets: When you acquire or dispose of significant assets, it is crucial to update your will to reflect your current estate. Failing to do so may lead to unintended beneficiaries or disputes among heirs.

  • Addition to the Family: The arrival of new family members, be they children, grandchildren, or even dependents, should prompt a revision of your will to include them as beneficiaries.

  • Appointment of Executors or Trustees: If your chosen executors or trustees are unable to fulfil their roles, it’s important to appoint alternatives to prevent complications in the estate administration process.

Edit Your Will Carefully: Remember, you can’t simply alter your will once it’s signed and witnessed. To make changes, you must either create a codicil or write a new will. For minor amendments, a codicil might suffice, but for substantial changes, drafting a new will is generally recommended. Whichever method you choose, it must be executed with the same formalities as your original will.

In conclusion, regular updates to your will are vital to ensure it accurately reflects your current intentions and provides clear instructions for the distribution of your estate.

Seeking Professional Advice

When making your will, it’s crucial to consider consulting a solicitor or a professional Will Writer to ensure it is legally valid and aligns with your intentions.

When to Consult a Solicitor or a professional Will Writer

You should seek out a solicitor or professional Will Writer when:

  • Your estate involves complex arrangements, such as overseas property or a business.
  • If you want to provide for dependants who might challenge your will, such as a previous spouse or children from another marriage.

They can help if you’re concerned about someone contesting your will or if there are potential Inheritance Tax issues.

Role of Legal Advice in Will Making

Legal advice is invaluable for how to make a Will:

  • Clarifying your wishes, ensuring they’re expressed correctly and making your will less likely to be contested.
  • Minimising tax liabilities and maximising what you can pass on to your beneficiaries.

Guidance from a legal expert ensures that your will is both comprehensive and complies with all current laws and regulations, like ensuring it’s properly witnessed. They can also advise on the implications of the latest case law and any updates in the inheritance tax regulations.

Frequently Asked Questions

When creating a will, it’s crucial to understand the legal formalities, costs, and considerations specific to the UK to ensure your wishes are honoured after your passing.

What are the legal requirements for writing a valid will in the UK?

In the UK, your will must be in writing and signed by you and two witnesses to be valid. These witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will. For detailed guidance, check the write your will section on GOV.UK.

Can I draft a legally binding will without the assistance of a solicitor?

Yes, you can draft a will without a solicitor’s/Will Writers assistance; however, to avoid common mistakes and ensure its legality, consider following a proven template or obtaining advice. Learn about the pitfalls from Citizens Advice.

What are the potential costs associated with creating a will through a solicitor?

Costs can vary depending on the complexity of your will and the solicitor you select. It can range from a simple will costing a hundred pounds to more complex estate planning costing more.

What are the key elements I need to consider when planning my estate?

Consider your assets, chosen beneficiaries, executor duties, and guardians for any children. Think about specific bequests, and don’t forget digital assets. It’s important to choose an executor who can settle your affairs.

Is it possible to obtain a free template for writing a will in the UK?

Yes, free will templates are available for straightforward situations. Ensure the template complies with UK legal standards.

Are there certain assets or provisions that should not be included in a will?

Not all assets can be included in a will, such as jointly owned property or certain pension policies. Additionally, dependents’ rights and statutory limitations must be considered when drafting your will.

Glossary of Terms

  • Assets: The total value of all the money and property owned by a person when they die. This can include things like real estate, bank accounts, investments, and personal belongings.
  • Beneficiary: The person or entity who receives something (money, property) through a will.
  • Bequest: A specific gift of personal property (chattels) outlined in a will. (e.g., jewellery, furniture, a car)
  • Chattels: Personal possessions; movable items of tangible property. (This term is used to distinguish personal property from real estate in a will).
  • Codicil: A legal document that amends an existing will without rewriting the entire thing.
  • Digital Will: A document that outlines how a person’s digital assets (e.g., online accounts, social media profiles) should be handled after death. Digital wills are not yet legally recognized in the UK, but they can still provide guidance to loved ones.
  • Discretionary Trust: A trust where the trustee has discretion in deciding how and when to distribute assets to the beneficiaries.
  • Estate: The total value of all the money and property owned by a person when they die.
  • Executor/Executrix: The person named in the will to administer the estate and distribute assets according to the will’s instructions.
  • Fiduciary: A person or entity who has a legal duty to act in the best interests of another person. In the context of wills, this applies to executors, trustees, and anyone else entrusted with managing the estate.
  • Gift: A voluntary transfer of property without expecting anything in return. Gifts can have implications for inheritance tax planning.
  • Guardian: The person designated in the will to care for minor children if the parents die.
  • Intestacy: When someone dies without a will, the rules of intestacy determine how assets are distributed.
  • Inheritance Tax: A tax levied on the value of an estate passed on to beneficiaries after death.
  • Irrevocable Trust: A trust where the terms cannot be changed once created. Assets placed in an irrevocable trust are generally no longer considered part of the grantor’s estate for tax purposes.
  • Issue: Descendants; children, grandchildren, and future generations. (Used in legal contexts).
  • Joint Tenancy: A type of ownership where two or more people own property together. When one joint tenant dies, their interest automatically passes to the surviving joint tenants. This can have implications for inheritance tax planning.
  • Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA): A legal document that allows someone to appoint another person (the attorney) to make decisions on their behalf if they become incapable of doing so themselves. There are different types of LPAs, including one for financial decisions and one for health and welfare decisions.
  • Legacy: Something of value passed down from a deceased person. (can be monetary or intangible)
  • Liabilities: The debts and financial obligations of a person or estate.
  • Life Beneficiary: The person who receives income or benefits from a trust during their lifetime.
  • Lifetime Trust: A trust created during the grantor’s lifetime. Assets placed in a lifetime trust may or may not be removed from the grantor’s estate for tax purposes depending on the type of trust.
  • Living Will: Also known as an advance directive, a living will is a legal document that specifies a person’s wishes for medical treatment in the event they are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves. A living will is not a substitute for a traditional will.
  • Mirror Will: Two separate wills that essentially mirror each other, often created by spouses leaving their assets to the other spouse first, then to designated beneficiaries after the surviving spouse dies.
  • Next of Kin: The closest living blood relative(s) of the deceased. It’s important to note that next of kin do not inherit automatically unless there is no will.
  • Personal Representative: Another term for Executor/Executrix.
  • Per Stirpes (distribution): A legal term used in inheritance law. If a beneficiary predeceases the testator/testatrix and has living descendants, those descendants will inherit the beneficiary’s share “per stirpes.” This means the inheritance is divided equally among the surviving descendants, rather than going to the closest living descendant.
  • Predeceased: To die before someone else. (e.g., If a beneficiary named in the will predeceases the testator/testatrix, the gift may pass to another beneficiary according to the terms of the will).
  • Residue: The portion of the estate that remains after all specific gifts (bequests) and debts are paid. The will usually specifies how the residue should be distributed.
  • Revocable Trust: A trust that can be modified or revoked by the grantor during their lifetime. Assets placed in a revocable trust may still be considered part of the grantor’s estate for tax purposes.
  • Settlor: The person who creates a trust and transfers assets to it.
  • Single Will: A will created by one person outlining their wishes for their estate.
  • Society of Will Writers (SWW): A professional organization for will writers in the UK.
  • Spouse Exemption: In the UK, the spouse exemption is a crucial aspect of inheritance tax (IHT) planning. This exemption allows individuals to leave their entire estate to their spouse or civil partner upon death without incurring any IHT liability. However, it’s essential to note that the spouse exemption applies only to legally married couples or those in a civil partnership recognized by UK law, and it’s subject to certain conditions and limitations outlined by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
  • Tenancy in Common: A type of ownership where two or more people own property together. Unlike joint tenancy, each tenant owns a pecific share of the property, which can be passed on to beneficiaries or sold independently.
  • Testamentary Capacity: The mental ability required to create a valid will. This means the testator/testatrix must understand the nature of the document, the extent of their estate, and who they are leaving their assets to.
  • Testator/Testatrix: The person who creates the will.
  • Trust: A legal arrangement where assets are held by a trustee for the benefit of beneficiaries. (Trusts can be created alongside a will or separately)
  • Trustee: The person or entity appointed in the will to manage specific assets (held in a trust) for the benefit of beneficiaries. The trustee has a legal duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust outlined in the will.
  • Vesting: The process by which a beneficiary acquires a legal right to ownership of an inheritance. The will may specify when and how vesting occurs.

Famous Wills

We thought it would be interesting to show how the process of making a Will has changed over the years, whilst still quite an archaic process it has moved on since the time of Jane Austen, author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, amongst others – see a copy of her Will below (courtesy of the National Archives). Yours will look a lot different, we promise!

Jane Austen's Will