More than half of us haven’t made a will. But if you die without a will, you’ll be leaving your loved ones with a heap of extra stress when they least need it.
No matter how old you are, it’s time to plan for the inevitable – where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Why do I need a will?
Having a will puts you in control, even when you’re no longer here, making sure that your money, property and possessions go where you want them to.
If you die without a will, you’ll have no say in what happens to your estate. It’s the law that will determine who gets what. And depending on how your family life is set up, the law may well be out of step with what you actually want.
Don’t assume that just because you live with your partner, for example, that you have the same legal rights as married couples. If you’re cohabiting but don’t leave a will, your assets will pass automatically to the closest blood relatives – usually children, parents or siblings. This could leave partners struggling at a time when they’re also dealing with grief.
There’s also the issue of tax. A will allows you to get to be sure of the amount of tax that will be owed on whatever you leave. If you die without a will your loved ones could miss out, with a bigger chunk of your money heading to the taxman.
Without a will you’ll be leaving a whole lot of extra stress for your family, which might lead to upset and arguments between your loved ones. They’ll also be left to pick up the bill if solicitors and lawyers are needed.
When should I make a will?
Everyone should have a will, but it is even more important if you have children, own property, own a business or have savings, investments and insurance policies.
If you have a will already, it is also important to look and amend it if it’s out of date. You should review your will around every five years and whenever there’s a big change in your life. Marriage, divorce, separation, having children and buying or selling a property may change your circumstances leaving your will out of date. You also need to update it if the executor of your will dies or your relationship with them changes.
How do I make a will?
Before you march down to the solicitor’s office (or whoever you choose to draw up your will), you need to do some planning and make a rough draft.
Work out what you’ll leave in a will, taking into account any property you own, business interests, savings or shares you have, the value of your possessions and any special items you want to pass on. Also, consider your pension: take advice from The Pensions Advisory Service about whether you can pass that on.
Then you need to ask yourself what you want to achieve with your will. Do you want to provide for your spouse, or give your grandchildren a nest egg? Is there a charity you want to leave a legacy to, or do you have a disabled relative who may need more support? You should also ask yourself how your will would change if those due to benefit from it were to pass away after it’s written.
If you have younger children, think about who you would want to look after them if you were no longer around, then name their legal guardians in your will.
You also need to decide who will be your executor - the person who carries out the wishes laid down in your will. You should ask them if they’re happy to take on this responsibility before you name them in the document.
It might not be fun, but it’s a good idea to talk with your nearest and dearest about what you intend to put in your will is also a good idea. Discussing your wishes helps everyone to understand why you have made certain decisions and how best to achieve them. Talking it through hopefully avoids arguments further down the line.
Now you know what you want your will to look like, you can find the best person to help you get it sorted out.
Who can help me make a will?
When it comes to making a will, you have three main options: getting help from a solicitor, using a will writing service, or doing it yourself.
A solicitor may be the most expensive option, costing between £150 and £200 for a single will (it’s slightly more if you and your other half draw up a will together). But it may be money well spent as you’ll be getting the help of a professional trained to spot potential problems.
And there are ways of cutting the costs. If you’re under 55, a similar scheme, Will Aid, runs in November.
If you’d prefer to opt for a will writing service, which can be slightly cheaper than a solicitor’s usual fee, make sure you choose one that belongs to either The Society of Will Writers or The Institute of Professional Will Writers. Although few will writers are legally qualified, if they belong to one of these bodies they do at least receive up-to-date training. Choose a service that has at least £2million of professional indemnity cover - if things go wrong, this gives you a better chance of compensation.
Can I make a will myself?
Yes. It’s definitely the cheapest option, but there are also a lot of pitfalls.
As long as it is properly signed and witnessed by two independent adults who are present at the time you sign your will, it should be legally binding. But, without knowing what you’re doing, you could create extra stress and confusion for your loved ones when you die.
You should only write your own will if your wishes are very simple, such as if you’re married and want to leave everything to your husband or wife. And you should be very careful with the language you use in a DIY will. Phrasing things differently from tried and tested ways could create a whole heap of confusion. A will template, which you can buy for £20-£30, can help you with the right wording.
Generally, the advice is to avoid DIY wills unless you are absolutely confident that your situation is simple and straightforward. Always do your research first. The Money Advice Service is a great starting point.
You may not want to talk about your death, but the fact is you cannot start planning your will too soon.