1. Consider the legal bits
You need to be over the age of 18 for your will to be legally valid. If you’re under 18 but have strong wishes that you want people to follow, you can look at some different options such as recording a video or audio message or writing a letter that you pass on to a family member, close friend or someone involved in your care.
If you are over 18 but choose not to write a will, your assets will be passed on automatically according to ‘intestacy’ rules. This will most likely be your closest family, but it depends on your situation such as where you live in the UK and whether you have children.
You don’t have to appoint a solicitor for a will, but it’s always a good idea to get advice if your situation isn’t straightforward, for example if you have your own a business or share a mortgage with someone who isn’t your spouse or civil partner.
You’ll need to choose up to four ‘executors’ to carry out your wishes. It’s important to think about this carefully, as they will be responsible for sorting out your property and carrying out your instructions – which can be a complicated job. Ultimately, it needs to be somebody you trust.
If you want to change your will at any time you will need to make an official alteration called a codicil, or make a new will.
2. How to write your will
Your will must be written following certain rules. For example, it must be handwritten and signed in the presence of two witnesses. When it comes to making your will there are a few different options, so it’s worth having a look and considering what would be best for you:
- Solicitor or professional financial advisor: Using an accredited solicitor is usually the safest bet for getting a professional service and for protecting your compensation rights. However, it is also usually the most expensive so it’s worth getting a few quotes and personal recommendations before you decide on one. You can find a local Wills and Probate solicitor through the Law Society.
- Bank will services: Some banks offer a will writing service so ask yours if they can help. Check that you can choose your own executor though, as some banks charge a lot for this and it could potentially be more costly than it would be for you to hire a solicitor.
- Professional will writing service: These are generally cheaper than using a solicitor but you need to be cautious as anybody could call themselves a will writer. Always check qualifications and find out whether they are a member of a professional body, such as the Law Society’s Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (WIQS) or the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).
- DIY will writing kits: Although these are a relatively cheap option and are easy to find in most newsagents or book and stationary shops, they are not a method that we would recommend. You should definitely avoid them if your situation is complicated or it’s important to you that you don’t pay more inheritance tax than you need to.
- Online will writers: Beware of cheap services – they may be unregulated and the advice you receive inaccurate and potentially not legally binding. Some will charge for storing your will, so this is also worth checking.
You can keep your will at home, with a solicitor or accountant, bank, company that offers will storage or with the London Probate Service.
3. What to include in your will
It’s good to start by writing down a list of your assets, such as any savings, car, pension funds, personal belongings or property if you own any. It’s also a worthwhile to include any debts here too, so you know exactly where you are. You will need to consider the following:
- Where you would like your savings, valuable objects, heirlooms property, investments or pensions to go (after any tax or costs have been paid)
- Instructions about how to pass on any digital assets and social media, such as access to photos, blogs and various accounts
- Decisions about protecting beneficiaries (for example, not receiving money or property until they reach a certain age)
- Information and requests regarding looking after children who are under the age of 18
- Whether you’d like to leave a legacy to your favourite charity, as well as for family and friends.
4. Talking to loved ones
After you’ve made your will it’s a good idea to talk to friends and family about your wishes so they know what to expect, especially if there are children involved. It can help avoid arguments and it will mean a lot to people to know that you’ve thought of them.
Although it can feel like an overwhelming task, writing a will can be a very cathartic process and may give you a sense of control. You can also take the opportunity to speak with family and friends about the ‘practicalities’ of dying, such as pain control, where you would like to die and what kind of funeral you would like. These decisions can also go into a living will, which will explain how you want to be treated and cared for.
Read more about advanced decisions and giving someone Lasting Power of Attorney on our making choices about your care page.
Updated September 2016, next review due 2017.