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How to make a will

Find out how to write a will, who can help you create it and the pros and cons of doing it yourself

In this article
How do I make a will?  DIY: writing your own will Getting a solicitor to write your will
Using a will-writing service How much does a will cost? How should I store my will?

How do I make a will?

If you're planning to write a will, you can choose whether to do it yourself or seek help from a professional. The right option for you will depend on how complex your affairs are, and how much assistance you're likely to need. 

We explain your options for doing-it-yourself, using a solicitor, or hiring a will-writing service below.

A will can be made on any sheet of paper and follow any format, provided it is signed by you and witnessed as required by the law.

But an invalid will, or one with conflicting instructions, could be challenged in court. This can cause family conflict, and inflict the stress and expense of a lawsuit on your loved ones.

As such, it's worth bearing in mind the following for creating a valid, legally binding will.

  • Are you making a will? Make your will and get it reviewed by Which? Wills, all for a fair price – visit Which? Wills to find out more.

Have witnesses as you sign the will

The original version of the will must be signed by witnesses, and free from errors or changes.

The witnesses must watch you sign the will in person. If one of them is out of the room when you sign, your will risks being found invalid.

In England and Wales, you must have two witnesses over 18, while in Scotland, you require one over 16.

Witnesses cannot inherit anything as beneficiaries, although they can be named as executors. If your will leaves anything to a witness, the whole document could be invalid.

Appoint 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 anyone you trust, but it's most common to pick a friend, relative or solicitor. 

In most cases (unless your estate is particularly complex) non-professional executors are preferable, as solicitors can charge hundreds or thousands of pounds. If your executor ultimately needs professional help to administer your estate, they can commission probate services.

Executors can also inherit from your estate as beneficiaries, as long as they are not witnesses to the document.

If you opt for a free will-writing service, take the time to make sure you understand it thoroughly, as well as any implications.

In some cases, for instance, solicitors might write the will for free, but name themselves as executors of your estate, leading to costly legal fees down the line, which could eat into your dependents' inheritances.

When putting together the document, don’t leave blank spaces, and make sure each page is numbered to prevent anyone tampering with your will.

  Witnesses Executors Beneficiaries
Can they inherit from your estate? No Yes Yes
Can they act as executors? Yes Yes Yes
Can they act as witnesses? Yes Yes No
Need to be present when will is signed? Yes No No
Need to be over 18 in England and Wales? Yes Yes No

Avoid challenges to validity

There should be nothing amended or crossed out in the document that you sign. If you want to change your will at a later date, you'll need to make a codicil. This is an additional document setting out any changes you'd like to make, signed and witnessed in the same way as your will (though not necessarily by the same people).

Make sure the instructions you leave are easy to understand and follow, as you won't be around to explain your reasoning. 

Work out what your assets are

Your will can cover a large scope of situations, from who will inherit your assets to who will look after your children.

Before writing your will, it's worth identifying all the assets you own, as well as any sentimental items you'd like to leave to loved ones. 

You should also work out arrangements for your children's care and financial needs. Finally, consider whether you'd like to leave specific instructions for your funeral.

You can find out more in our guide: What to put in your will.

Include a residuary gift

No matter how thorough your will is, there's likely to be part of your estate that isn't accounted for. As such, it's worth including a 'residuary gift', that sets out who will inherit anything not otherwise given away by the will.

This clause can also be useful if, for example, one of the heirs you name dies before you do.

If the will doesn't have a residuary gift, the remainder of the estate will be divided up according to the laws of intestacy.

 

 DIY: writing your own 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. You can also opt to write the will yourself and have a professional review it, which will often be for a lesser fee.

If you do decide to make a DIY will, it’s crucial to make sure you ensure the document is witnessed correctly and includes all relevant assets.

  • Are you making a will? Make your will and get it reviewed by Which? Wills, all for a fair price – visit Which? Wills to find out more.

Getting a solicitor to write your will

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.

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 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
  • you have a family member or friend with special needs, who you’d like to be sure is protected after you’ve gone
  • you have assets that could be subject to complex rules, such as overseas property.

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 problems arise with the will. The regulating bodies depend on where you live:

  • England and Wales – Solicitors Regulation Authority
  • Scotland – the Scottish Law Society
  • Northern Ireland – 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 higher these cases, but will trusts could significantly cut your estate’s inheritance tax bill.

Using a will-writing service

If you don't want to pay for a solicitor, but would like some guidance, you could consider using a will-writing service. 

You’ll get more help than if you do it yourself, and it will be cheaper than instructing a lawyer. This option is best if your circumstances are relatively straightforward – more complex cases may require a solicitor's expertise.

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, up to at least £2m, so you’ll have recourse if something goes wrong.

Beware free will-writing services, or companies that insist on the sole right to execute your will after you pass away. In some cases, companies may then later charge expensive fees to administer probate. 

Will-writing 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 or more expensive than the others, ask yourself why this is. 

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

Using a bank's will-writing service

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 the estate is very straightforward, or if most of the probate work is done by someone else.

If your bank won’t allow you to appoint your own executor within the will writing service, it may be best to look elsewhere. 

How much does a will cost?

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 - for example, one that includes trusts - the cost goes up. You could expect to pay a minimum of £500 to £600.

How should I store my will?

Once you have made a will, you have to decide where to store it. You have several options, depending on your preference. Whichever you choose, it's vital that it's stored safely and securely, and can be accessed by the executor(s) when the time comes, so you'll need to tell them where it is.

If you opt for a solicitor, wills storage company or your bank, remember to ask if there are any fees if you need to access the will to make changes, or for the executor when they obtain the will after you pass away. 

 

With a solicitor

 

Most solicitors store wills for free if you made the will through them. Will writers often charge a one-off or annual fee. 

Even if your will wasn't written by a solicitor, they may be willing to hold it for a modest fee. This could be a one-off fee when you deposit it, or an annual fee while they are holding it. 

 

With your bank

 

Some banks offer a will storage service for a modest charge. 

However, you should never keep your will in a safe deposit box.

If you do, the executor could find themselves in a catch-22 situation, where they can't access the safe deposit box because they don't have probate, but they can't obtain probate because the will is in the safe deposit box. 

 

With a wills storage company

 

Wills storage companies look after documents in a similar manner to solicitors. Most charge on a subscription basis, and levy additional fees if your will needs to be changed. 

Which? Wills offers a will storage service for £25 per year. Your will will be stored safely and securely, and you'll have access to it whenever you want. There's also telephone support from our wills experts, and the option to send your executor(s) details of where it is being stored. 

 

At home

 

You can choose to store your will at home, and spare yourself the cost of a storage service.

Your will should be kept in a safe place, where it's unlikely to be lost or damaged.

If you choose this option, make sure your executors know where to look and can access it – for example, if it's in your safe, your executor will need to know the combination.

Are you making a will?

Make your will and get it reviewed by Which? Wills, all for a fair price - visit Which? Wills to find out more. 

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