How do I make a will?
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.
We explain how to make a will that's legally-binding, and how much you could expect to pay.
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.
- Are you making a will? If you want support, you can make your will and have it reviewed by Which? Wills, and until 30 April 2021 it's half price.
Do I need witnesses to my will?
The original version of the will must be signed by you, your 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.
How to choose an executor
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) it's best to opt for a friend or family member, as solicitors can charge hundreds or thousands of pounds. If your executor ultimately needs professional help, they can commission probate services.
Executors can inherit from your estate as beneficiaries - except if they're also a witness.
What can executors and witnesses do?
|Can inherit from your estate?||No||Yes||Yes|
|Can act as your executor?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can witness your will?||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|
What can I leave in my will?
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 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 should include 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.
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 or a new will. A codicil 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.
When putting together the document, don’t leave blank spaces, and make sure each page is numbered to prevent anyone tampering with your will.
Use our wills planner tool
Before writing a will, it's worth thinking about who will inherit your most important assets and any other wishes for your estate.
You can plan out your will, including your executors and beneficiaries, with our wills planner tool.
Click the image below to download the free planner.
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 wills - known as mirror wills - you'll usually get a discount for writing both at once.
For a more specialist will, such as one that includes trusts, the cost goes up. You could expect to pay a minimum of £500 to £600.
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.
When writing a will, 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.
Should you decide to make a DIY will, it’s crucial that the document is witnessed correctly and includes all major assets.
- You can opt to write your own will, and have it reviewed by experts, with Which? Wills
A solicitor 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 an inheritance tax bill, and certainly provide peace of mind.
With your lawyer, you can discuss exactly what you want the will to achieve and how to avoid ambiguities.
It’s worth considering a lawyer if any of the following applies:
- your estate will probably have to pay inheritance tax.
- 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.
Find out more: inheritance tax: thresholds, rates and who pays
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 may be cheaper than instructing a lawyer. This option is useful if your circumstances are relatively straightforward – more complex cases may require a solicitor's expertise.
Not all will-writers are qualified or regulated. Make sure the will-writer you choose is recognised by a regulatory body within the industry, or by a regulated individual, like a solicitor
Beware free will-writing services, or companies, that name themselves as executors of your will after you pass away. Your estate will generally face steep legal fees down the line when it comes to administering your estate.
Will-writing services start at around £80, and will rise to a few hundred pounds, depending on the complexity of your estate, and the expertise of the company.
- 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 under £100, or even free, but you might later find you 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 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. Your executor(s) will need to find it when the time comes, so make sure you tell them where it is.
If you opt for a solicitor, wills storage company or your bank, ask if there are any fees to access the will to make changes, or for the executor 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.
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.