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What to put in your will

By Ian Robinson

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What to put in your will

Find out what you should include when writing your will.

A will is an important document which allows you to clearly state what should happen to your estate after you die. Here, we explore the main subjects that need to be covered in a will. 

Making bequests and legacies when you make a will

Most wills are made up of cash legacies, bequests and the residue. You can leave cash to relatives, friends or charities – these are usually fixed sums to named individuals. You can also bequeath your possessions (including property) and treasured objects to whoever you wish.

What’s left after all the debts, tax and fees have been paid is the ‘residue’. This can be left to one person or it can be shared out among several individuals.

Go further: The will-making process – learn how to make your own will with Which? Wills.

Leaving property in your will

If you share ownership with a spouse or partner, your worth is half its market value, less your share of the mortgage. Property can held in two ways – either as joint tenants or tenants in common. 

  • If your property is held in a joint tenancy, your half of the property will pass to the surviving joint tenant automatically.
  • If your property is held in a tenancy in common, you can leave your share of property to someone else in your will. They will then become a tenant in common with the other owner of your property.

This used to be a common arrangement to avoid inheritance tax (IHT), but is now less widespread. It may also protect a share of the estate if you're assessed for, although this is not automatic and can be invalid if the local authority judges you have made the arrangement with deliberately deprive yourself of assets. 

Be wary of rearranging your property ownership and rewriting your will specifically for this purpose. It could be expensive and ineffective. 

Go further: Avoiding inheritance tax - these tips can help ensure that you have more residue left over to leave to your loved ones.  

Children as the beneficiaries of your will

For children under 18, you should say who you wish to be their guardians if both parents die, and where the money will come from to look after them. This is usually made in the form of trusts.

If children inherit money and/or property, it's held in trust until they are 18 (or until they get married, if earlier). If you don't specify how the trust should be managed, it will be dealt with according to the 'trustee laws', which let the executors deal with the fund (see below).

Appointing executors to your estate

Executors are people that carry out your wishes in accordance with your will. It's best practice to name more than one executor (or one executor and a substitute). These can be relatives, friends or even a solicitor. 

In most cases (unless your estate is particularly complex) lay executors are preferable. If they need professional help to administer your estate they can commission probate services. Beneficiaries can act as executors.  

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

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