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How to make a will

By Ian Robinson

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How to make a will

Find out who can help you write a will and the pros and cons of doing it yourself.

If you want control of what happens to your estate after you die, it’s vital to have an up to date will in place. 

Otherwise, your assets will be divided according to intestacy rules, which could mean your loved ones are left without support, or could be left with a bigger inheritance tax bill than they might have done.

Fortunately, the process can be quite straightforward, and there are plenty of services that will help guide you through the process.

  • Do you need a will? Which? Wills can help you do-it-yourself - or create one on your behalf

What are my options for writing a will?

It’s possible to go it alone when writing a will, and many people choose to take the DIY route rather than seek professional assistance.

That said, if your situation is complex seeking professional advice can be a good idea, as it’s very easy to make a mistake that could make your will invalid or ambiguous.

If you do decide to make a DIY will, it’s crucial to make sure the original version is signed by witnesses, and free from errors or changes. Don’t leave blank spaces, and make sure each page is numbered.

It’s possible to have self-written wills reviewed by a professional to make sure everything is in order. There will be a fee for this, but it’ll be cheaper than having the whole document created professionally.

Alternatively, you can visit a solicitor who can write the document for you, and make sure everything is in order.

This will be the most expensive option, but it could potentially save your family on an inheritance bill, and certainly provide peace of mind that everything is in order.

The main benefit of using a lawyer is you can discuss exactly what you want the will to achieve – and they’ll be able to ask the right questions to avoid ambiguities. It’s definitely worth considering a lawyer if any of the following applies:

  • Your estate will probably have to pay inheritance tax. At the moment, this means your assets are worth more than £325,000.
  • Your family’s circumstances are complicated – perhaps you have former partners, or children from a previous marriage, and you’d like to be confident about how your estate will be divided
  • You have a family member, or friend, with special needs, that you’d like to be sure is protected after you’ve gone – perhaps a family member
  • You have assets that could be subject to complex rules – perhaps property overseas.

In addition to writing the will, a solicitor will usually store it for you for free.

Solicitors are qualified and regulated, so you or your dependents will be able to seek compensation if it isn’t done properly. The regulating bodies depend on where you live:

  • In England and Wales, it's through the Solicitors Regulation Authority
  • In Scotland, it's through the Scottish Law Society
  • In Northern Ireland, it's through the Northern Ireland Law Society.

Expect to pay a few hundred pounds to hire a lawyer to write your will. The exact cost will depend on the complexity of your affairs. 

If your estate is quite complex, a good lawyer might be able to help you consider putting assets into trust. The legal fees will probably be more in these cases, but if they significantly cut your estate’s inheritance tax bill, the savings will be worth it.

Somewhere between the first two options are will writing services. You’ll get more help than if you do it yourself, and it will be cheaper than instructing a lawyer. They might not be au fait with the most complex cases, so it’s best to consider this if your circumstances are relatively straightforward, but you’d like the peace of mind that comes with an expert’s help.

Not all will writers are qualified or regulated, so it’s a good to make sure they’re a member of a recognised trade body, such as the Institute of Professional Will Writers, or the Society of Will Writers. Members of these bodies will have indemnity insurance, worth at least £2m, so you’ll have grounds for recourse if something goes wrong.

Beware free will-writing services, and companies that suggest or insist that their company has the sole write to execute your will after you pass away. These might prove expensive if the company later charges expensive fees to administer probate. It’s generally better to appoint one or more people you trust as lay executors – and authorise them to seek professional help during probate if they need it.

These services start at around £80, and will rise to a few hundred pounds in some cases. The cost will depend on the complexity of your estate, and the expertise of the company you hire.

It’s a good idea to seek a few quotes. If one company is much cheaper than the others, ask yourself why this is. 

  • Which? Wills offers a wills-writing service to help guide you through the process 

It’s quite common for banks to offer will writing services. These services are often offered for under £100, or even free, but you might later find you’ll pay through the nose in hidden charges. 

It’s particularly important to look for clauses that give the will writing company the right to administer your estate, and charge fees for doing so.

Even with relatively straightforward estates, you might be charged a high percentage of the estate, perhaps 5% to act as sole or joint executor. These charges will still apply if estate is very straightforward, or if most of the probate work is done by someone else.

Again, it’s best to appoint a trusted friend or relative to act as the executor, and give them the freedom to seek professional advice if they need it. If your bank won’t allow this within the will writing service, look elsewhere.

The cost of making a will

Whether you go to a solicitor, will writer or bank, simple wills start from about £80 and go up to several hundred pounds. If you and a spouse or partner want substantively the same (mirror) wills, the costs are usually less if you have them written at the same time.

If you want a more specialist will that deals with, say, trusts, the cost goes up – expect to pay a minimum of £500 to £600.

Where can I store my will?

Once you have made a will, you have to decide where to store it. The original signed and witnessed will must be produced when you die, otherwise your assets are treated as if you died intestate (dying without a will).

Most solicitors store wills for free if you made the will through them. Will writers often charge a one-off or annual fee. Be sure to tell your executors where your will is stored.

Is the will-writing process going to change?

The UK Law Commission has opened a consultation to see if the UK’s will laws, which were written 180 years ago, should be updated. If the changes go ahead the process could become much simpler.

The main proposal is to allow courts to honour wills that don’t meet the official requirements, if the writer’s wishes are clear. At the moment, many wills are deemed invalid because of minor errors in the paperwork. These changes could also pave the way for electronic or digital wills.

The minimum age for writing a will may also change, from 18 to 16. In some cases the age limit could be scrapped entirely, for example where children who receive large compensation payments.

Changes to intestacy rules could also be on the table. At the moment, getting married overwrites an existing will, which can lead to people accidentally disinheriting children from previous marriages, or causing complications for co-habiting couples if they later decide to get married.

The consultation closes on 10 November. After this, the Law Commission will make its final recommendations.

We’ll be responding on behalf of consumers, and are keen to hear from people who’ve had problems with disputed wills, or have been so daunted by the process that they haven’t made one.

If you’d like to help, please join in the conversation.

  • Last updated: October 2017
  • Updated by: Tom Wilson
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