What is a will and should I get one?
What is a Will?
A Will (sometimes referred to as a will and testament) is a legal document that sets out what you wish to happen to your estate when you die. As well as dealing with the financial aspects of your estate you can also detail issues such as who will look after any children or what type of funeral you want.
It is estimated that around 60% of the population do not have a Will leaving the prospect of major complications in administering an estate on death. Dying without a Will will mean your estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy; more on this later.
When do you need a Will?
It could be argued that every adult should have a Will but it should certainly be a priority for the following groups of people.
Married or in a civil partnership
If you are married or in a civil partnership, it is important that you have a Will drawn up so that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. It may be that you do not want all your assets passed on to your wife/partner or you want to make charitable donations. Having a Will ensures that your wishes are carried out.
If you have children then a Will can specify who should legally look after them in the event of your death. If your children are due to inherit your estate when you die, a Will can instruct whether they are to receive equal shares and who is to inherit specific items. Also, family dynamics change, people who you once assumed would naturally inherit your estate may predecease you or you may get divorced, so by completing a Will (and keeping it up to date) will ensure that your wishes are carried out.
Single with assets
If you are single and have assets then it would be prudent to create a Will to make sure that the assets are distributed as you wish. Perhaps you have a relative who you would like to pass assets to or charities that you support who you want to benefit, all this can be detailed in a Will.
Any death is a traumatic and stressful event so having the clarity and legal standing provided by a Will is essential. Please remember there are rare events where both parties to a marriage die together, maybe in an accident, and having a Will in place can help resolve the issues around their estate in a structured and legal manner.
How much does a Will cost?
It depends on how complicated your Will is but you can set up a simple single Will for as little as £75 (Usually £90) using our special offer below. If your affairs are fairly straightforward then there are numerous online companies which offer will writing services. Farewill is the UK’s number 1 will writer, as voted by its customers with a Trustpilot rating of 9.6 out of 10. You can get £15 off the price off a will by taking advantage of this Farewill offer and it only takes around 10-15 minutes.
More complex Wills, where trusts are involved, will be more expensive but whatever the cost it is a small price to pay for the comfort that your family will be provided with upon your death.
Do I need a solicitor to make a Will?
There is no requirement to use a solicitor to make or execute a Will and there is a number of online services available to create your Will. If, however, your Will is more complicated then it is advisable to use the services of a solicitor to ensure the Will created is exactly as you want it.
It would be advisable to use a solicitor if any of the following applies to your estate:
- your estate value exceeds the inheritance tax threshold (currently £325,000)
- you have a complex family situation such as former partners or children from different relationships
- you want to protect an individual's interests after your death such as an elderly or disabled family member
- you need the advice of somebody independent from your family members
- you want to put assets in a trust
What needs to be included in a Will?
Details of your estate
Assets that make up your estate include:
- your home or any other property you own
- investments e.g. stock & shares or ISAs
- pension funds
- motor vehicles
- personal belongings
- household contents
Any outstanding debts on death will reduce the value of your estate and include:
- debt involved with equity release
- credit cards
- bank overdraft
It's advisable to revalue your estate on a regular basis so that you are aware of your inheritance liability on death.
How you want to your estate to be divided
- who do you want to benefit from your Will and what share should they receive
- do you want to give specific gifts to particular people
- what happens if beneficiaries die before you
- do you want to make any donations to charity
Who will care for any children
- who will be appointed as the guardian of your children
- where do you want your children to live
- what finances will be made available for their upkeep
- what will happen when they reach 18 years old
Names of executors
- executors are the people who will deal with the distribution of your assets in accordance with your wishes
- as there may be a fair bit of work involved in this role, make sure you chose your executors wisely
- always approach a potential executor first to make sure they are willing to take on the role and fulfil the role in a competent manner
- think about the age of your executors, selecting someone older than you means you risk having to change your Will if they die before you. Ideally, executors should be a similar age or younger than you
How to set up a Will?
If you are using a solicitor to prepare your Will then they will set it up for you. If you are using a Will writing service or preparing it yourself then your will must be:
- made by a person 18 years old or older
- made voluntarily
- made by a person of sound mind
- made in writing
- signed & dated by the person making the Will in the presence of two witnesses
- signed by both witnesses
Remember that a witness or a married partner of a witness cannot benefit from a Will.
Once completed the Will can be kept at home, with a solicitor or accountant or at a bank. Solicitors often use Will depository services which ensure your Will is kept in a safe place and is easily accessible if required.
For more information read our article - How to sort your will today in 10 minutes
How can I update an existing Will?
It makes sense to regularly review your Will to ensure that it reflects your current wishes. As you go through life circumstances change and new relationships can develop so you should review the details in your Will regularly.
If you want to make small changes to your Will then this can be done by attaching a codicil to your Will. A codicil is a short document that details the changes which is then signed and witnessed as in the original Will. A local solicitor will usually be able to complete a codicil at the cost of around £40 - £70. If extensive changes are required then a new Will can be written to override the original one.
What happens if I die without a Will?
If you die without a Will (known as dying intestate) then your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy as follows.
Married partners and civil partners
Only married partners or those in a civil partnership at the time of death can inherit, cohabiting partners cannot inherit.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren at the time of death and the estate is valued at more than £270,000 the partner will inherit:
- all the personal belongings of the person who died
- the first £270,000 of the estate
- 50% of the remaining estate
If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren the partner will inherit
- all the personal belongings of the person who has died
- all the estate including interest from the date of death
- If there is no surviving partner then children of the deceased will inherit all the estate
- If there is a surviving partner then children will only inherit the value of the estate over £270,000
- adopted children (including step-children who have been adopted) are eligible for inheritance but otherwise only biological children can inherit
- children do not inherit immediately but have to reach the age of 18 or have married or entered into a civil partnership
- the inheritance of children under 18 will be managed by trustees on their behalf
- grandchildren and great-grandchildren cannot inherit from a Will unless their parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person
Parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews of the intestate person may inherit under the rules of intestacy but how this is distributed will depend on a rather complex number of factors. For more information visit the Citizens Advice website.
If you have an estate valued at over £325,000 it may be worth reading our comprehensive guide - Inheritance tax explained
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