The importance of writing a will
Writing a will allows you to have control over what happens to your property, money and belongings after you die. According to research 59% of UK adults haven’t made a will, and that goes up to 65% among 45-54-year-olds1. But what should you put in a will and how does the process work?
Read our guide on how to leave a house and other assets to someone in a will.
There are plenty of things to consider when making a will. Here are ten reasons why writing a will is a good idea.
- Control your estate. The main concern for most people when writing a will is to make sure their money and possessions are distributed in the way they prefer.
- Reduce stress for your next of kin. After the death of a loved one, the amount of bureaucracy and arrangements to be made can be overwhelming. Writing a will helps alleviate that problem.
- Avoid arguments. Your family and other beneficiaries will have your wishes clearly laid out, leaving less room for disputes over who should get what.
- Make provision for your children. If you have children under 18, you can specify who you would like to become their guardian, rather than entrusting the decision to the courtroom.
- Make your funeral requests clear. A will is also where you can set out the kind of funeral you’d like, from whether you’d prefer to be buried or cremated, as well as your choice of music.
- Avoid intestacy rules. If you die without making a will, your estate will be divided according to set rules rather than your intentions.
- Help to reduce your Inheritance Tax. Anything in your estate above £325,000 (2023/24 tax year) is liable for Inheritance Tax, so making arrangements in your will can help to reduce the amount of inheritance tax your estate is liable for.
- Give to organisations or charities. It’s not just people who can benefit from your will, but organisations and causes close to your heart can do too.
- Protect your digital assets. Increasingly, our treasured possessions are accessed digitally, from photographs to password-protected documents. Find out more about what happens to their digital legacy after they pass away.
- Care for your pets. Your will can include provisions for any pets you have, such as who should look after them.
In formal terms, if you die without writing a will you’ve died intestate, and what you leave becomes subject to intestacy laws. If there are no surviving relatives who can inherit under the rules of intestacy, the estate passes to the Crown. This is known as bona vacantia. The Treasury Solicitor is then responsible for dealing with the estate.
The intestacy laws are designed to help decide who’s entitled to your estate under the rules of inheritance. A significant disadvantage is that your estate may not pass to the people you want to benefit. For example, if you were married or had a civil partner, there’s no guarantee your children or grandchildren would receive anything unless you leave an estate worth over £270,000.
You can find out more about the rules of intestacy at GOV.UK.
If you’re not married or in a civil partnership and your partner dies, you will not be automatically able to inherit anything. The same applies if your relationship to the deceased was that of a friend, carer or relative by marriage.
If you’re unmarried and you have children, they will inherit the estate under the rules of intestacy. This underlines why it’s important that unmarried couples write a will to protect their financial future.
Ideally, you should write your will at the earliest opportunity. In practice, though, people tend to write theirs when they hit key milestones in life, like buying their first home, getting married or entering a civil partnership or having children. These are the moments in life where you start to accumulate an estate and have dependents for the first time, which may focus the mind on what will happen to them when you’re no longer around.
Alternatively, you might be prompted by the death of a close relative, or divorced; these events act as a reminder that life can be unpredictable, and that it’s a good idea to make provisions for the future.
Ultimately, it’s hard to know when or even how to leave assets like a house to someone in a will, but it’s wise to be proactive, as making a will ensures your estate goes to the people you want.
How to choose an executor
The executor is the person who will carry out your wishes, as laid out in your will, after your death. Being an executor can mean taking on a lot of responsibility for making sure the estate is distributed correctly, paying off any debts, and mediating in any disputes, so you’ll want to choose someone who is happy and capable of rising to the challenge. Most people ask family or friends, but if you have a complex estate, it can be a good idea to consider a professional executor, such as a solicitor.
You can also decide to have more than one executor. Many people appoint two, allowing them to share the burden of responsibility. Find out more about the responsibilities of the executor of will.
A will is a legally binding document that has to be written in accordance with certain rules, so you can’t simply write something on a notepad without knowing what to include in the will.
For this reason, using a solicitor or a reputable online will provider can help make sure your will is legally valid. You can find will writers through recognised trade bodies like the Institute of Professional Will Writers or the Society of Will Writers. Some charities, such as Will Aid, offer will writing support.
You can even make your will yourself, but realistically, you should only write a DIY will if your wishes are simple.
To make your will official as a legal document it should:
- Be made in writing
- Clarify it was made voluntarily, when you were of sound mind
- Be made by someone 18 and over
- Signed and dated by you in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign it in turn in your presence. The witnesses must 18 and over, such as a neighbour, friend or colleague.
It’s worth bearing in mind that your witnesses should not be beneficiaries of the will, married to a beneficiary or blind.
These rules apply to wills that are executed in England and Wales. The rules for making a will legal in Scotland are slightly different.
How much does it cost to write a will?
The cost of writing a will depends on the complexity of your estate and financial affairs, as well as the solicitors’ costs in your region. For a simple will, you could expect to pay in the region of £150 to £250, but the most complex wills may cost at least £500.
What to include in a will
The more detail you include about your wishes in your will, the more you reduce the chances of confusion and misunderstanding. The areas you should be sure to cover include:
- Who you want to be the beneficiaries of your will
- Who your chosen executor is
- Who you want to take care of any children under 18
- What you would like to do if the beneficiaries die before you do.
Aside from these fundamentals, many wills increasingly include information on how the testator’s digital possessions should be stored, their support for charities, and who should look after a pet, for example. You should define how you’d like these assets to be distributed, otherwise anything left over could go to the state.
Can you change your will?
Generally, it’s a good idea to take a look at your will every five years or so, to see whether anything’s changed or you need to update it.
You might also want to review your will after major events in your life, like a marriage, divorce or having children.
The only way to make minor amends to an existing will, like changing your executor, is with an additional document called a codicil, which will have to be signed and witnessed in the same way as the original will. Alternatively, some online will providers include this service for a small fee.
You can also replace an existing will with a new one. To be sure that the latest will is the only one considered after death, you should destroy any previous wills and include the phrase ‘All other wills that pre-date this are null and void from this date’ in the new will. In case you're wondering if a will can be changed after death, we've explained the process in this guide.
Discussing your wishes with your loved ones
It’s never an easy conversation to have, but talking to those close to you about your wishes after your death can help prevent any arguments or misunderstandings after the event. It’s also an opportunity to find out what treasured possessions they value and might like to receive.
Writing a will is part of making your passing a little easier for your loved ones, and reducing the stress of sorting out your belongings and your estate.
1. From research carried out by Canadalife in September 2020
Protect your family’s future by writing a will
Getting professional support when it comes to writing a will means your money, assets and possessions can be safely transferred from one generation to the next. For more guidance on writing a will, Citizens Advice and GOV.UK have online resources.
And if you’re thinking of planning ahead in general, our Over 50s Fixed Life Insurance could allow you to leave a fixed cash sum to your loved ones when you pass away, which could be used to help contribute towards your funeral costs or be left as a gift. If you are looking to leave a cash sum to help contribute towards funeral costs you can choose to add the Funeral Benefit Option to your plan. Terms and conditions apply.