How to Make a Will : Do's and Don'ts
Read on for our tips on how to get started.
1) Summary in 30 Seconds
- Anyone can make a Will as long as they are over 18 years old and have the mental capacity.
- You can prepare to write a will by compiling a list of your possessions and assets and deciding who you would like to inherit them.
- It is possible to write a simple Will yourself. If you have a more complicated estate or need legal advice, you should find a solicitor who can help you.
2) When Should I Write a Will?
There is no specific time or age when you should make a Will, but there are some indicators that it is something you should start to consider.
- You are engaged, just gotten married or entered a civil partnership.
- You are divorced or are in divorce proceedings.
- You have children.
- You are buying a property or own your home.
As we get older, our responsibilities tend to grow. We may accumulate more assets or possessions, perhaps own our own home or are in a long-term relationship. The above list are just a few common examples, so if none of those are applicable to you, it is likely that there are other reasons you should probably have a Will. For example, even if you have no children of your own and don’t plan to, you may have nieces or nephews, or be a godparent to your friend’s children. You can include such ones in your Will.
A long-term romantic partner has no automatic rights of inheritance if you die without a Will, even if you have been together for a very long time. If you would like them to inherit your estate, you need to write a Will that specifies this.
Even if you don’t own much of value, having a Will can still greatly simplify the Probate process that your family will have to deal with in the event of your death.
Did You Know?
Divorcing your spouse makes any Will in which they were a beneficiary void. You will need to write a new Will.
3) How To Prepare To Make a Will
- Value your estate. Your “estate” is made up of everything that you own – all your possessions, assets, property and so on. Start by writing a list. Most of the mundane things in our house don’t have much monetary value so don’t worry about those. Items that do have monetary or sentimental value should be specifically mentioned — you want to make sure that something is recognised for its true value, or won’t get accidentally thrown away. Don’t forget all your bank and savings accounts. Your pets are classed as possessions too, make sure to include them as well so that someone can care for them.
- Decide who will inherit. This might be a straightforward part for you: many people decide to leave their entire estate to their spouse and vice versa, or leave everything to their children. If this isn’t your situation, you may need to spend a bit more time thinking about who you would like to inherit from your estate. Even if you think you don’t have much, you might have sentimental items you would like a certain friend or family member to have. You might want to specify a particular person who has agreed to look after any pets. You could make a gift to a charity you support.
- Choose and name executors. An “executor” is the person who has the job of winding up and distributing your estate after you die. It is a time-consuming and sometimes complicated task, so it is important to name someone who agrees to this and is capable of doing it. You can also name more than one executor, in the event that they die before you or are not able to undertake the task at the time.
Often retirement accounts, life insurance policies or company shares will already have named beneficiaries that stand to inherit when you die. Check that this is the case, otherwise they need to be included and a beneficiary named in your Will.
4) Find a Solicitor or Do It Yourself?
If you conclude that you only need a very simple Will, it is possible to do it yourself or use an online tool. Making a Will at home can be much more convenient and affordable. It is likely that this will be completely sufficient for now. If things change in the future, you can always look at it again to make sure it is still applicable or make a new, more detailed Will altogether.
If you start writing your own Will or using an online template tool and find that you are running into questions or aren’t sure how to proceed, this is probably a good indicator that you need to use a solicitor. Yes, using a solicitor will be more expensive, but there are some benefits to instructing one to make your Will.
- Getting legal advice. A solicitor will answer your questions in the full context of your situation and the personal information you’ve provided them. This is especially helpful if you have a complex family or financial situation.
- Expertise on Will-writing. If you write your own Will and make mistakes or leave things out, you only have yourself to blame and your family will have no legal recourse. Without the necessary legal knowledge, you probably don’t know the best way to write a Will beyond what an online guide might tell you. There may have been other ways you could benefit your family, which a well-written Will could have covered.
- Fulfilling the legal requirements. There are a number of requirements you must make sure to follow in order that your Will is valid. Your solicitor will make sure that these are adhered to right up to completion.
- Receiving on-going help. As your solicitor will be well-informed of your situation, they can be an ongoing source of legal advice as the years go on. It can be a real help when issues arise or circumstances change. You can even name your solicitor to be the executor of your estate.
5) Keeping Your Will Current and Up-to-Date
A Will is not something you write and put in a drawer to forget about. Doing this risks that your Will becoming outdated or actually invalid at the time of your death. Over the course of our lives, our circumstances and family situation can change quite significantly. Even if you can’t pinpoint any specific changes or amendments you want to make, it is a good practice to still review your Will every so often to make sure it is still relevant to your current wishes.
- You might have since had children or grandchildren
- You may have beneficiaries named who have died or who are no longer in your life
- You may have divorced or separated from a partner.
- You have bought property abroad
- You may have given a beneficiary a gift while you’re alive instead.
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6) What If I Don’t Make a Valid Will?
You may have drafted your Will, but at the time of your death it was not signed or witnessed. Can the choices and wishes within still be adhered to in any way? No. In the eyes of the law, you have died Intestate. This means without a valid Will in place. When there is no Will, the courts must intervene. They will assign the person who will wind up your estate. In the Rules of Intestacy, inheritance of all your money and property goes to your next-of-kin.
Such a situation could be extremely distressing and painful to your loved ones. You have lost the ability to distribute your money and possessions in the way you wanted. Through taking a few simple steps now, it is also entirely preventable.