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Reasons for making a will

By Ian Robinson

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Reasons for making a will

Find out what you need to know before making a will, which services to use when you do and what to do if you need to make any changes.

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 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, try Which? Money for £1 for two months for unlimited access to the expert team on the Money Helpline.

Why parents need a will

It might be the last thing on your mind as you adapt to your busy new life as a parent, but making a will is really important when you have children. Having a well-thought-out will in place lets you make essential provisions for their care and wellbeing if your were no longer around to care for them.

Not having a will means there's no guarantee that your wishes would be taken into account when it comes to the guardianship of your children and the distribution of your estate if you died.

By writing a will, you can appoint guardians for your children if they're under 18 when you die. If you don't do this, your Local Authority or court may be left to decide who should look after them.

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 your will is valid, check with a solicitor practicing under the relevant country's law.

Using professional will-writing services

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'll 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.

Go further: Which? Wills - make your own will with Which? in five easy steps.

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's 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's worth getting legal advice on drawing up the new will.

Useful contacts

Law Society of England & Wales; Law Society probate section 020 7242 1222

Law Society of Northern Ireland 028 9023 1614

Law Society of Scotland 0131 226 7411

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners 020 7340 0500

Society of Will Writers 01522 687 888

Institute of Professional Willwriters 08456 442 042

Will Aid 

Citizens Advice 

Age UK (formally Age Concern) 020 8765 7527

Remember a Charity 020 7840 1030

  • Last updated: June 2016
  • Updated by: Ian Robinson
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