Writing a will Reasons for making a will
We all know we should make a will, but it’s one of those things that many of us never seem to get round to. In fact, it’s estimated that one in three people die without ever having made one.
But not making a will can mean chaos and financial worry for your family or dependants after you’ve gone. Without one, you can't be sure that your money and property will be passed on according to your wishes.
If you die without a will (called dying intestate), the intestacy rules determine who inherits what. You can find out more this in our in our guide to intestacy rules.
If you need help on how to go about making a will, or any other aspect of your finances, sign up to Which? for just £1 for one month and you can speak to a member of our Money Helpline team to get individual guidance
Do you need a witness when making a will?
A will that is not properly signed and witnessed is invalid. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, two witnesses are required. Witnesses should be in the same room when the will is signed. A witness does not need any special qualification or public standing but is merely witnessing your signature.
However, they must not have any beneficial interest in the will as this could make the will invalid. In Scotland, normally one witness is sufficient, but in some circumstances even a will that is not witnessed may still be valid. If you're not sure whether a will is valid, check with a solicitor practicing under the relevant country's law.
Using professional will writing services when making a will
There are a number of different ways to to make a will - doing it yourself, a solicitor, a specialist will writer, your bank or building society, or an online will writing service.
Making a will with a solicitor
Most people use a solicitor. Don’t assume that you will always get an expert however – ask about their experience and whether they belong to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). If you need advice on inheritance tax, for instance, check that the person who is writing up your will has additional tax qualifications and knows what they’re doing.
Making a will with a will writer
If you use a will writer, rather than a solicitor, check whether they belong to the Institute of Professional Will Writers or the Society of Will Writers. Ask for evidence of indemnity insurance and for details about procedures should you or your beneficiaries have a problem with the will.
Making a will with a bank
If you use your bank to make your will, check how its will-writing service is regulated and who actually provides the service.
For more on this, read our comprehensive guide on how to make a will.
How to change your will after you’ve written it
It's sensible to review your will every few years and consider amending it or even writing a new one if there is a change in circumstances, such as if you get married, have children or get divorced.
Changes to a will can be made by codicil – an addendum to the original will – or by revoking the old will and drawing up a new one. You can revoke a will by physically destroying it. If the change is relatively simple, you can write a codicil and get it witnessed, and keep it with your existing will. But you should not alter the original will.
If you wish to make a new will, it should begin with a clause stating that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. If the changes are complicated, such as you remarry, it is worth getting legal advice on drawing up the new will.
For more information on making a will, see our book Wills and Probate.
Useful contacts when making a will
Law Society of Northern Ireland - 028 9023 1614
Law Society of Scotland - 0131 226 7411
Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners - 020 7340 0500
Society of Will Writers - 01522 687 888
Institute of Professional Willwriters - 08456 442 042
Age UK (formally Age Concern) - 020 8765 7527
Order the Which? book Wills & Probate - for detailed information