Millions of adults in the UK haven’t made a will, risking their wealth going to the wrong people, according to new figures.
Analysis by asset manager Close Brothers suggests that as many as 25 million UK workers may not have taken the step to protect their finances and provide for their loved ones.
Why have so many of us put off writing a will? It’s likely that prevailing misconceptions mean some people believe they don’t need one, or it’s harder than it is.
Here we go through some commonly held beliefs that are stopping you writing a will and explain the reality.
1. Your partner will get everything anyway
You might assume that your partner will automatically inherit everything after you die, especially once you live together. But that’s not necessarily the case.
If you die without a will, the laws of intestacy apply.
This means your estate will be shared out in a strict order, based on your family connections. Under these rules, married spouses and civil partners are the first to inherit, but unmarried partners won’t get anything, no matter how long the relationship was.
Find out more: intestacy: dying without a will
2. Making a will is expensive
Drafting a legally sound will doesn’t have to cost the earth – you can do it for less than £100 or even free of charge at certain times of the year.
October is Free Wills Month when charities offer those aged 55 or over the opportunity to draw up a simple will at participating solicitors. It’s free of charge, with charities including AgeUK and Dogs Trust taking part in the hope that you might include a gift to their cause.
If you don’t qualify for a free will, you can save on the cost by using an online will-writing service, or by drafting a will yourself and having a solicitor review it.
- Get 50% off Which? Wills Premium and draft a will with legal help for as little as £84.50.
3. It takes ages to write a will
You might be surprised to discover you can draft a will in the time it takes to watch an episode of Coronation Street.
Which? Wills estimates that if your affairs are fairly straightforward, you could draft a will in half an hour.
You can speed up the process by knowing what assets you have, who you want to benefit, and who to appoint as executors.
You can use our wills planner to work out what your will should include.
4. Your will can’t be changed
The wishes you set out in a will aren’t set in stone – so you can change your mind or update it to reflect a change of circumstances.
Small changes to your will can be made through a legal document called a codicil.
If you want to make a more major change, you can make a new will that replaces the existing one.
- Find out more: what to put in your will
5. You need a lawyer to write a will
In theory, you could write a will all by yourself, without the need for a lawyer.
A will can be made on any sheet of paper and follow any format, as long as it’s signed by you and witnessed by two other people over the age of 18 (or one over the age of 16 in Scotland).
However, to make sure it’s legally binding, it’s a good idea to get some support – especially if your circumstances are complicated. This could be as simple as having a solicitor review your will after you’ve written it.
- Whether you want support writing a will yourself, or you’d like us to write it for you, Which? Wills can help and is offering 50% off its Premium package.
6. It’s obvious who will look after your children
In most cases, when a parent dies, the surviving parent will look after any children. But what if both parents pass away at the same time, or one is no longer in the picture?
You might have named god-parents for your children, but this isn’t a legally binding arrangement. Even if there is an obvious candidate to be a guardian – such as a family member who’s heavily involved in your child’s care – other relations could step forward to make a claim, leading to family disputes.
A will allows you to appoint a legal guardian for your children in the event of your death, which will give you peace of mind.
Find out more: will-writing for new parents
7. All your children will get a fair share
Dying without a will can inadvertently disinherit the people closest to you.
Step-children or foster children cannot inherit from your estate unless you explicitly provide for them in a will, even if they’re living with you.
Adopted children, on the other hand, are treated the same as biological children.
- Find out more: how to write a will
8. You’re too young for a will
If you have youth on your side, it’s easy to put off writing a will or to decide it’s not something you need to do any time soon.
But everyone needs a will – and if you have dependants, it’s vital to protect their needs if the worst happens.
In the best-case situation, it won’t have to be called on for many years, but no-one can predict what’s going to happen – and you want to make sure what you have goes to the right people.
9. Your will is valid forever
If you made a will years ago, you may think you don’t need to worry about it again.
But when you get married, your will automatically becomes invalid in England and Wales.
Should you die, your estate would be split between your new partner and any children (including those from a previous marriage) – which may not have been what you intended.
Keep in mind that divorce, on the other hand, won’t invalidate a will. So if you’d like to re-arrange your affairs after splitting with a partner, you’ll need to write a new will as well.
- Find out more: reasons for making a will