MAKING A WILL: There are several reasons why you should make a will. Once you have made your last will and testament:
- There is no confusion over what happens to your money and personal belongings.
- It determines who gets any property or valuable possessions after you die.
- It ensures you pay the minimum amount of Inheritance Tax.
Writing a will is often ignored or neglected as part of death and bereavement – and the sadness it brings. But, you can write your last will and testament without a solicitor.
Even so, some wills can be complex and difficult to construct. If this is the case, it is best to get legal advice from someone who is expert in will writing.
To make a will valid and legal according to the law, it needs to be formally ‘witnessed’ and signed. You must make an official alteration or ‘codicil’ any time you want to update a will. Often, it is simpler and less confusing to make a new will instead.
Note: UK law determines the beneficiary of your assets if you die without leaving a will. That means the estate gets distributed according to legal processes rather than your intended wishes.
Writing a Will for the United Kingdom
There is a basic checklist of things to set out in a will. As a minimum, it should include instruction on:
- Who you name to sort out the estate and to carry out your wishes after your death. The person appointed to perform the duties stated in a will is the ‘executor’.
- Who should benefit from the assets stated in the will.
- Who gets the responsibility of taking care of any children below the age of 18.
- What you want to happen (who will benefit) if any of the beneficiaries named in the will die before you do.
Legal Advice on Writing a Last Will and Testament
Wills that are not straightforward should be written by a professional. Examples of common complexities might include a situation where you:
- Have several family members who might make a claim on the will (e.g. a second spouse or children from a different marriage).
- Have a business.
- Own property overseas or you made your permanent home outside of the United Kingdom.
- Plan to leave assets (money or property) to a dependant who is unable to care for themselves.
- Share a property with someone other than your spouse or a civil partner.
Best Place for Keeping a Will Safe
There are several safe places to keep a will. Most people store it at home. If so, it would be best to keep it in a waterproof and fireproof box (if possible).
Even so, you can also store the written document with:
- A bank
- A company offering will storage (search for companies online)
- A solicitor
- The London Probate Service
Note: Further guidance on storing a will with the Probate Service is available on leaflet PA7. Someone needs to know where you stored the will. As a rule, tell your executor, a relative, or a close friend where you keep it.
How to Make Sure Your Will is Legal
To leave a legally valid Last Will and Testament in the United Kingdom you must be at least 18 years old and be of sound mind. You must also:
- Make the will voluntarily.
- Make it in writing (e.g. not composed by email).
- Sign it in the presence of two (2) witnesses who are both over 18 years old.
- Have the will signed by the two witnesses while in your presence.
Note: You cannot leave any assets in the will to any of the witnesses (or their married partners). You must follow the same signing and witnessing process after making any changes to a will.
Updating a Will
People often forget about their will once it gets validated and stored. But, it is wise to review it at least every few years and after making any major life changes, such as:
Making Changes to Death Will
Once it gets signed and witnessed you cannot amend the will or make any changes by yourself. To change it, you need to make an official alteration or ‘codicil’.
Note: After making a codicil you must get it witnessed using the same method as witnessing a will. But, there are no limits on the number of codicils you can add to a will.
How to Make a New Will
As a rule, most people prefer to make a new will if there are major changes to the written content and instruction.
A new will must explain that it officially cancels or ‘revokes’ all previous wills and codicils. It is best to destroy the old will afterwards (e.g. burn it or shred it).
Changing a Will after a Death
In fact, it is possible to change someone’s will after their death. But, any beneficiaries who would become worse off by the changes must first agree to it.
Note: Use form IOV2 to check whether a ‘variation’ would meet legal requirements. If you want to change a will you must have it completed within two (2) years of the death.