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Making a will

  • Who should make a will?

    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:

    • several people could make a claim on your estate when you die because they depend on you financially
    • you want to include a trust in your will (perhaps to provide for young children or a disabled person, save tax, or simply protect your assets in some way after you die)
    • your permanent home is not in the UK or you are not a British citizen
    • you live here but you have overseas property, or
    • you own all or part of a business.

    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.

    Using a solicitor

    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.

    Finding a solicitor

    You might want to look for a solicitor who is a member of the Law Society's Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme. By choosing a member of this scheme you can be sure that your solicitor meets the high standards set by the Law Society. You can find details about the scheme at www.lawsociety.org.uk/willsinheritance If you need to make a will but don’t have a solicitor, you can find one at www.lawsociety.org.uk/findasolicitor Search under Wills and probate. Or you can call 020 7320 5650.

    What your solicitor will need to know

    Once you have appointed a solicitor, they will need the following details from you.

    What you own

    Details of everything you own, including property, cars, personal valuables, stocks and shares, bank accounts, insurance policies, any businesses you own, and pensions.

    Who gets what?

    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)?

    Family and other beneficiaries

    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.

    Guardians

    If you have any children that may still be under 18 when you die, you may need to name someone as their legal guardian.

    Other wishes

    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.

    Executors of your will

    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.

    Signing the 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.

    Where to keep the will

    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.

    Keeping your will up to date

    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.

    Costs

    Charges for drawing up a will can vary between solicitors. They also depend on:

    • the experience and knowledge of the solicitor; and
    • how complicated your will may be.

    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.


    Alternative formats

    We can make the information in this leaflet available in other formats and selected languages on request. Please email accessibility@lawsociety.org.uk for more information.

    Disclaimer

    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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    A guaranteed way of identifying a specialist legal adviser is to search for members of our Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme.

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