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Making a will: how to write one and why you need to

When is the best time to write your will? The answer is, as soon as you can.

Having an up-to-date will is important at any time of your life, but especially if you have people who depend on you, such as a partner or children.

Here’s why you need a will and how you can write one.

Learn more: what are the best online will writing services in the UK?

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Why do I need a will?

If you die without a will, which is known as ‘dying intestate’, then UK law determines who inherits your assets.

This may not be as you would have wished, and it will certainly take much longer for your beneficiaries to inherit anything.

With a will, you can dictate exactly who gets what. Your wishes can be as simple or as detailed as you like, provided that your solicitor ensures they are legally binding.

You can make sure your family is taken care of, leave assets or specific items to family and friends, make contributions to charity and ensure your overall legacy.

Most importantly, you can specify who will care for any dependent children you leave behind.

Why do I need to update my will?

Your will may well need to change with your circumstances.

If you get married, this invalidates any previous will you may have made, so you will need to make a new one.

Similarly, if you have children, you may need to write them into a new will to prevent future disputes.

If you have children from previous marriages or relationships, an up-to-date will is essential if you want to avoid messy conflicts between your different families.

How do I make a will?

Although DIY will-writing kits are available, it’s easy to make mistakes this way, which can be costly to fix later on.

A solicitor can help you make a legally binding simple will for between £100 and £200, but wills can cost up to £2,000. 

A will could cost more if you are divorced and have children or need to cover trusts or overseas properties. 

If you're aged 55 or over, you may be able to benefit from 'Free Wills Month' in March and October, where you can make or update a simple will free of charge. While you can leave a gift for charity, there is no obligation to. 

You will need to appoint executors who oversee the distribution of your estate and liaise with any professionals or organisations on behalf of your beneficiaries.

You should appoint at least two people to do this. They don’t need any experience, but do choose people who are confident dealing with official matters.

You will also need at least two witnesses to read and sign your will, and these should not be beneficiaries.

Are there any more benefits to having a will?

Sometimes, your will can help to reduce the inheritance tax (IHT) your beneficiaries may have to pay.

If you think your estate may be over the IHT threshold, talk to a financial adviser before you draft your will.

There are many ways to legally reduce or even eliminate an IHT bill through advance planning and through other means, such as making gifts to charities in your will.

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Where should I keep my will?

You should keep your will safe at home, with your solicitor, at a will storage company or with your bank

Make sure the relevant people know where it is, as you won’t be around to tell them.

Joint wills and mirror wills

A joint will is one made by two people (usually married) that cannot be changed without both of them agreeing.

This means that after one party's death, the other person cannot change the will without taking costly legal action.

You can make mirror wills, where each spouse writes their own individual will that exactly matches their partner's.

Each spouse can also change their own will if it becomes necessary to do so. Contact a solicitor to find out more about mirror wills.

What about trusts? Should I consider setting one up?

Another way to ensure your wishes are carried out is by setting up a trust.

This allows you to set aside money to support a beneficiary in a specific way or at a certain time such as to pay for your own care, to support someone who can’t manage their own money, or to pay university fees.

You’ll need to name a trustee who will be responsible for ensuring the trust is used for its intended purpose.

There are different types of trusts, and each has different tax implications, so it’s important to explore your options with a financial adviser.

Once you’ve decided on a trust, you’ll also need the help of a solicitor to ensure it is legally sound.

If you found this article useful, you might also find our articles on estate planning and wills for blended families and on deed of variation informative, too. 

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.