Top reasons to make a will
It's estimated that one in three people die without having made a will - yet this can mean chaos and financial worry for your family or dependants after you’ve gone.
Making a will can give you and your loved ones peace of mind. Here, we explain why you need to make a will.
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1. Make sure your money goes to the right people
If you die without a will, any money you leave behind will be distributed by the rules of law, called the laws of intestacy. This might not work out the way you’d like - inheritance usually passes to your spouse or your closest living relative.
If you have no living relatives, all your money could even go to the state. You can name exactly who you want to inherit in your will.
2. Save your family additional stress
If you don’t leave a will, the law decides how your estate should be divided - no matter how close you were with family members or what you may have promised them.
This may cause distress for the loved ones your leave behind. The process can also be more complex, and require additional paperwork or legal advice.
3. Appoint a guardian for your children
Writing a will not only lets you decide who gets what from your estate, it also gives you a say as to who should look after any dependents. If your children are under 18, you can appoint their legal guardians in your will. If you don't, the decision could go to the family courts, and they may not choose what you’d like for your children.
4. Provide for your children's futures
Make sure the money you leave to any dependents aged under 18 is used to bring your children up the way you’d have liked.
For example, you could allocate a certain amount each year to clothing or hobbies, set aside funds for further or higher education, and for learning to drive and buying a car.
5. Leave an inheritance for your step-children
Your step children may have been a big part of your life, or even be your only children, but the law states that only spouses or blood relatives can automatically inherit if there is no will.
If you want to provide for your step-children, you'll need to include them in your will.
6. Protect your partner if you're unmarried
Unmarried partners aren't entitled to anything from your estate unless specifically stated in your will - no matter how long you've been together. Writing a will ensures your partner will get their share.
7. Create a legal will if you're recently married
When you marry, your existing will automatically becomes invalid in England and Wales. According to the rules of intestacy, this means your estate could end up split between your new partner and children from a previous marriage, causing potential arguments.
In Scotland, on the other hand, prior wills are not automatically invalidated by marriage - so if you die, your new spouse may not inherit anything if your old will does not include them.
To divide up your estate in the way you think is best, you need to write a new will every time you marry.
8. Safeguard your family home
If the family home is in your name, your unmarried partner and step-children aren't automatically in line to inherit it if you die without a will - meaning they may lose their home. You can leave them a share in the property, or a right to reside in the property.
9. Choose the right executors
Choosing your executor helps them to get ready in advance and saves any additional surprises. You can choose the right person to carry out your final wishes, based on who is best suited to the task.
What if you die without a will?
If you die without a will your estate will be divided up in line with the rules of intestacy. This means you will have little control over your estate.
You can find out more this in our in our guide to intestacy rules.
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.
Find out more in our guide to will writing for parents.
Do you need a witness?
A will that is not properly signed and witnessed is invalid.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, two witnesses are required. Both witnesses need to be in the same room with you when you sign the will.
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. This means they cannot receive any gifts from the will or be named as beneficiaries.
In Scotland, normally one witness is sufficient, but in limited 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.
- Which? Wills - make your own will with Which? in five easy steps.
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
Age UK (formally Age Concern) 020 8765 7527
Remember a Charity 020 7840 1030