Making a will

Everyone should have a will. This guide will help you make a clear, valid will that offers practical and financial help to those left behind when you're gone.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 19 May 2020  | 4 min read

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Key points

  • Making a will offers practical and financial help to those left behind when you're gone
  • You can write a will yourself or use will-writing companies, but it's worth considering professional legal help. There are also ways you can get a professionally written will for free
  • Store your will securely and let the appropriate people know how to find it
  • Review your will fairly regulalry, in case you want to make any changes

Who needs a will?

A will can perform a range of functions, but its main purpose is to determine what happens to your estate – your money, property and possessions – after you die.

If you have dependents or would like your estate to go to a particular person/charity, it could end up elsewhere if you don’t have a will. If you’re part of a couple, but not in a civil partnership or married, without a will your partner won’t be able to inherit your estate.

What happens if I don't have a will?

If you die without a will it’s called 'intestacy' or 'dying intestate'. The laws of intestacy will define what happens to your estate. This may differ depending on where you live in the UK. If you have no will and no living relatives, it's likely your estate will go to the Crown or government – this is known as bona vacantia.

Even if you do have close living relatives, not writing a will can mean your beneficiaries pay more in inheritance tax than they need to.

What does a will normally cover?

Your estate assets relevant to a will usually include:

  • Your home and any property
  • Any savings
  • Premium bonds
  • Life insurance or endowment policies
  • Pension funds
  • Stocks and shares or investment trusts
  • Cars and motorhomes
  • Jewellery and personal belongings
  • Any house contents such as furniture

You’ll also need to be aware of any outstanding debts, such as mortgage, credit card loans, or overdrafts. You might want to consider getting your assets valued when you write or update your will as their value can change over time.

What else can a will help with?

There are several roles a will plays, including:

  • Determining who’ll look after children or step-children under the age of 18
  • Stating what happens if any or all of the benefactors die before the will’s maker
  • Naming executors (those charged with sorting out the estate and administering it). An executor may be a friend or relative, a bank, a solicitor and/or an accountant. If there isn't an executor, or there's no surviving executor, legal advice should be considered
  • Determining other issues, such as funeral arrangements, or who looks after surviving pets

Making a valid will

If a will is invalid or unclear, it can create problems. To make a valid will it must be:

  • Made by someone of sound mind
  • Made by a person 18 or over
  • Written voluntarily
  • In writing

The will must be signed in the presence of two qualifying witnesses. Witnesses can’t be beneficiaries and must be aged 18 years or over and sign the document.

A witness or the married partner of a witness cannot benefit from a will. 

An undated will is legally valid, but including a date is advisable. Once a will is signed and witnessed, it’s complete.

If someone makes a will that’s not legally valid, their wishes for their estate won’t be followed.

Can I write my own will?

You don’t have to use a solicitor to make a will. The more straightforward a will, the easier it is to write it yourself.

Start by searching online for will-writing templates. You can also get guidance from Citizens Advice, a will-writing scheme or a charity.

But even with straightforward wills, it’s easy to make mistakes. Any errors could cause issues for your beneficiaries. If you’re writing your own will, always get a solicitor to check the final document.

Using a solicitor to write a will

It's worth thinking about getting legal advice before writing a will – especially if your arrangements are not straightforward. That could include if:

  • You have a business
  • You share a property with someone who isn't your wife, husband or civil partner
  • Your family arrangements mean there could be a claim made on the will (if you have step-children, or have been married more than once)
  • Your permanent home is outside the UK and/or you have property outside the UK
  • Beneficiaries of the will include people who can't care for themselves

Before speaking to a solicitor, make sure you have a plan (or at least an idea) about where you want your money, estate and possessions to go.

And remember to use a solicitor to check a will you've written yourself.

The price, standard of work and quality of service can vary between solicitors. To find the right one, you could use the Law Society's Find a Solicitor service.

Banks and will writing services

Some banks offer a will writing service. Contact your bank and make an appointment with an advisor. Check if there’s a charge for this service.

Free professional will writing

If you have legal protection cover on your home insurance and/or car insurance, that could include a free, professional will-writing service. Some trade unions also offer a free will-writing service to their members.

Professional will writers are not solicitors and may not be regulated, so check if they're a member of the Institute of Professional Will writers.

Other free will writing schemes include:

If you’re looking for free professional will-writing services, always do your research and read user reviews.

Where to keep a will

It’s important to keep your will safe. Store it securely at home, with your bank, your solicitor, a dedicated will storage company, or the Probate Service.

It’s also vital you let the relevant people (family, friends, and/or executor) know where to find your will once you’re gone.

Changing a will

Over time, you may want to change your will – if you move house, have children or grandchildren, get divorced, or become estranged from/reconciled to people.

If so, you have two options:

Using a codicil

The only way to change an existing will is by using a codicil (an official alteration).

A codicil is generally used for small changes to a will and must be made voluntarily, in writing, by a person of sound mind, and signed by two witnesses.

It’s possible to make more than one codicil, but the more there are, the more complicated a will is to administer. Codicils can also get lost, causing delays and disputes.

Writing a new will

If you have anything other than small changes to your will, it might be better to make a new one.

The new will must state clearly that it revokes any previous will or codicil. All previous documents (and copies) should be destroyed to avoid confusion and dispute.

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