If you care about what happens to your property after you die, you should make a will. Without one, the State directs who inherits, so your friends, favourite charities and relatives may get nothing.
It is particularly important to make a will if you are not married or are not in a registered civil partnership (a legal arrangement that gives same-sex partners the same status as a married couple). This is because the law does not automatically recognise cohabitants (partners who live together) as having the same rights as husbands, wives and civil partners. As a result, even if you've lived together for many years, your cohabitant may be left with nothing if you have not made a will.
A will is also vital if you have children or dependants who may not be able to care for themselves. Without a will there could be uncertainty about who will look after or provide for them if you die.
Your solicitor can also advise you on how inheritance tax affects what you own.
You should also consider taking legal advice about making a will if:
Once you have had a will drawn up, some changes to your circumstances - for example, marriage, civil partnership, separation, divorce or if your civil partnership is dissolved (legally ended) - can make all or part of that will invalid or inadequate. This means that you must review your will regularly, to reflect any major life changes. A solicitor can tell you what changes may be necessary to update your will.
Although it is possible to write a will without a solicitor's help, this is generally not advisable as there are various legal formalities you need to follow to make sure that your will is valid. Without the help of an expert, there's a real risk you could make a mistake, which could cause problems for your family and friends after your death.
The Law Society is presently launching a new Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (WIQS). Law firms are being accredited against the new quality standard from November 2013 onwards.
The scheme is designed to help you identify and choose an adviser with confidence. WIQS accredited solicitors will have demonstrated the necessary experience and expertise in drafting a will that reflects your needs and safeguards your wishes.
If you need to make a will but don't have a solicitor, visit Find a solicitor and search under 'Wills and Probate' to get details of solicitors in your area. Or you can call 020 7320 5650. From February 2014, WIQS accredited firms will be identified in Find a solicitor.
Once you have appointed a solicitor, they will need the following details from you.
Details of everything you own, including property, cars, personal valuables, stocks and shares, bank accounts, insurance policies, any businesses you own, and pensions.
Who do you want to leave these assets to? How do you want to divide your property between your loved ones, friends or charities? Are there any conditions you want to attach to these gifts (for example, that young people must reach a particular age before they are paid money you have left them)?
Details of your family and status. Are you divorced or has your civil partnership been dissolved? Have you remarried or entered into a new civil partnership? Or are you living with someone without being married to them or being their civil partner? Do you have any children or any other dependants?
Anyone who depends on you financially can ask a court to review your will if they feel you have not provided properly for them. If you give your solicitor relevant details, they can tell you about any legal pitfalls.
If you have any children that may still be under 18 when you die, you may need to name someone as their legal guardian.
Do you have any particular wishes for your funeral? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Are there any other instructions? For example, if you want to be an organ donor this can be included in your will. However, it is also a good idea to record your wishes on the organ-donor register, or to carry an organ-donor card.
You must also name the people you want to appoint as 'executors' of your will - the people who carry out the administration of your will after your death. These could be friends or family members, or a professional such as your solicitor. A good combination would be a friend or family member and a professional. Ideally, you should choose someone who is familiar with financial matters. Make sure you ask your executors whether they are happy to take on this duty as there are long-term responsibilities involved, particularly if you include a trust in your will.
Once the will has been drawn up it is not effective until it has been signed. There are several rules affecting the signature process which, if not followed correctly, will make your will invalid. For example, witnesses and their husbands, wives or civil partners cannot benefit under the will. Many people use staff at their solicitor's office to act as their witnesses to avoid this problem.
It is important to keep your will in a safe place and tell your executors or a close friend or relative where it is. People often ask their solicitor to store their wills for them. Most solicitors will do this for free, but sometimes there is a small fee.
You should review your will at least every five years and after any major life change such as getting separated, married or divorced, having a child or moving house. It is best to deal with any major changes by getting a new will drawn up. But it is also possible to make minor changes (codicils) to your existing will. In both cases it is best to consult a solicitor.
Charges for drawing up a will can vary between solicitors. They also depend on:
Before you decide who to use, check with a few local solicitors to find out how much they charge. But remember that cost should not be the only consideration. It is equally important to find a solicitor who is approachable and whose advice you understand.
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While we have made every effort to provide accurate information, the law is always changing and affects each person differently. This information is no substitute for specific advice about you personally and we will not be liable to you if you rely on this information.
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