Having a will in place lets you decide what happens to your property, money and belongings after you die. If you don’t have a will, the law decides who gets what. You may also pay more inheritance tax than you need to.
Here, we explain the benefits of making a will, what happens if you die without a will and how to write one.
5 reasons why you should make a will
Protecting those we care about is something we do naturally during our lifetime. Putting a will in place is a way to carry on protecting them after we’re gone.
Here are our top 5 reasons for making a will:
- You get to decide exactly how and when your estate will be shared out – that is, who gets what share of your property, money and possessions.
- You may be able to use a will to help manage the amount of inheritance tax payable on the property and money you leave behind.
- You can save your family the additional stress of having to deal with uncertainty at what is already an emotional and difficult time.
- If you have young children, you can choose someone to be their legal guardian to look after them until they’re 18 and ensure there are funds to help.
- You can make clear whether you’d like to be buried or cremated and any other wishes you may have for your funeral.
What happens if you die without a will?
If you were to die without a valid will in place, your estate would be shared out under certain rules – known as ‘intestacy rules’. This means the law decides who should deal with your affairs and who gets to inherit what. This can be different from your own wishes.
While the rules vary across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, these broad principles apply throughout the UK:
- if you live with a partner but are not married or in a civil partnership, they might not be legally entitled to anything
- if you’re married or in a civil partnership, your partner might get everything and your children nothing – or your partner might not get everything when you think they will
- if you have children or grandchildren, how much they are legally entitled to will vary, depending on where you live in the UK
- if you have no spouse, civil partner or children, your estate would go to your parents – or your siblings if your parents have died
- if you have no close living relatives, it would go to HM Treasury on behalf of the Crown
The only way to make sure your wishes are met after you die, is to create a legally-binding will. This is true for everyone, but is especially important if you have people who depend on you financially, or if you want to leave things to people outside your family.
What should you include in a will?
When making a will, you should consider:
1. How much money and what property and possessions you have. For example, your home, bank accounts, savings, investments, insurance policies and pensions, as well as cars, furniture, jewellery or antiques.
2. Who you’d like to leave money or your possessions to. These people are known as your beneficiaries. It’s also worth considering what you’d like to happen if any of your beneficiaries were to die before you and whether you want to leave any money to charity.
3. Who you’d like to look after your children, if you have any under the age of 18.
4. Who you’d like to be in charge of organising your estate after you’ve gone. These people are known as the executors and you can have up to 4.
How to write a will
When it comes to actually writing your will, you can:
Use a solicitor
A specialist solicitor or other regulated professional is likely to know wills, probate and inheritance laws inside out. This is usually the most expensive option, but if you have complex needs – and especially if you’re unmarried, previously bereaved or a business owner – it can give you peace of mind.
Use a will-writing service
This is usually a cheaper option than using a solicitor and could be suitable if your needs are fairly straightforward. Remember, will writers are not normally regulated so look for someone who’s a member of a professional organisation.
Write a will yourself
You can use either an online DIY service or a template bought from a shop, but this should only be considered if you have very simple wishes, such as everything to your spouse. If you do write a will yourself, follow the rules carefully to make sure your will is legal, otherwise it won’t be valid.
If you decide to write a will, the important thing is to do it now while you’re thinking about it. Don’t risk letting the years slide by. Instead, focus on the feel-good factor of getting this task off your to-do list once and for all.
When to write a will
There's no time like the present.
It's tempting to keep putting off writing a will, but there's no reason to delay doing so until you're older.
A good idea is to write your will after an important life event such as getting married or having children. That way you can have peace of mind, knowing your loved ones will be looked after no matter what happens.