A will is a legal document that you can create yourself or get drawn up by a solicitor. Your will outlines who will benefit from any assets, money or possessions you leave behind when you die.
If you have property, money or possessions you want to pass on, it’s a good idea to make a will. If you die without a will, the law will decide who gets what.
You can write your will yourself, or create one using an online will-writing service. However, if your will isn’t straightforward, it’s a good idea to take legal advice.
Once you’ve made your will, you have to get it formally witnessed and signed to make it legally valid.
The benefits of making a will are:
- it lets you decide what happens to your money, property and possessions after you die
- it can give you peace of mind that you’ve sorted out your affairs in advance, and
- it can help make sure you don’t pay more inheritance tax than you need to.
To update your will, you have to:
- make an official alteration (called a ‘codicil’), or
- make a new will.
Who can help me make a will?
A solicitor can help you make a will. If you don’t have a trusted solicitor, you can contact Solicitors for the Elderly. This national, independent network provides specialist legal advice for older people, their families and carers.
If you use a solicitor to help you make a will, they usually charge a flat fee for doing it. If you write your will yourself, it can cost you nothing.
What to include in a will
In your will, you should outline:
- details of who you want to leave your assets and possessions to – these people are called your ‘beneficiaries’
- specific details of who gets what
- who’ll carry out your wishes and sort out your estate when you die (this person is called your ‘executor’)
- who you want to look after any children under 18 (their ‘guardians’), and
- what happens if your beneficiaries die before you do.
Taking legal advice to help create your will
If your will isn’t straightforward, it’s a good idea to take legal advice before you create it.
For example, it can be a good idea to take legal advice about your will if:
- you have lots of family members who might make a claim on your will. This could include:
- children from another marriage, or
- a second spouse
- you share your property with someone who isn’t your husband, wife or civil partner
- you own a business
- you’re leaving money or property to a dependant who can’t look after themselves
- you want to appoint guardians for any children or dependents you have who are under 18
- you own property or have assets based overseas, and
- your permanent home is outside the UK.
Making your will legal
To make a legally-valid will, you must:
- be 18, or over
- put your will in writing
- make it voluntarily – it must be your decision to make it
- be of sound mind – you must have mental capacity when you make it
- sign it in the presence of two witnesses – both must be over 18, and
- get it signed by your two witnesses (both must be over 18) in your presence.
Other things to consider about creating your will:
- Your witnesses (or their married partners) can’t be beneficiaries for anything in your will.
- You can make changes to your will at a later date.
- If you do make any changes to your will, the same signing and witnessing process outlined above will apply.
Changing or updating your will
Once you’ve made your will, it’s a good idea to review it:
- every five years, and
- after any major change in your life, such as:
- getting married (this cancels any will you made before)
- getting divorced – or separated
- having a baby – or adopting a child
- moving home, or
- if the executor named in your will dies, and if any of the beneficiaries named in your will die.
After your will has been signed and witnessed, you can’t amend it. The only way to change your will is by making an official alteration called a codicil.
To make an official alteration to your will, you must:
- sign a codicil, and
- get it witnessed – in the same way as witnessing a will.
There’s no limit to how many changes you can make to your will.
When to make a new will
If you want to make significant changes to your will, it’s a good idea to make a new one.
Your new will must:
- be clearly dated
- explain that it revokes (officially cancels) all previous wills and codicils, and
- be created following the will-making process outlined above.
When you’ve made your new will, you should destroy your old will.
Keep your will in a safe place
It’s a good idea to keep your original will yourself AND store a certified copy of it with:
- your solicitor
- your bank
- a company that can store of wills – you can search online for these, or
- the Probate Service.
Make sure you tell a trusted person where your will is. This person could be:
- your executor (the person you’ve chosen to carry out your will)
- a close friend, or
- a relative.
Find out more about wills and probate
To find out more about wills and probate you can call gov.uk on 0300 123 1072.
Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, except on bank holidays.