Why is writing a will so important?
Quite simply, it tells everyone what you want to happen to your money and property when you die. It gives you peace of mind to know that things will go as you planned.
If you die without a will then the law will decide how your estate is divided up and passed on and that may not necessarily be in line with your wishes.
There are four main reasons for writing a will:
- It makes it easier for your family and friends to sort things out when you die. Without a will, it could be very time to consume, depending on how complex your personal situation might be.
- Without your wishes being made known in a will your estate – both cash and property – must be shared out in a standard way defined by law. This could mean someone will receive a share when you didn’t want them to or they receive more than you would have wished to give them.
- Having a will in place can reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax payable of a large estate.
- A will is especially important if you have children or other members of your family who depend on you financially or if you want to leave something to someone outside of your immediate family.
Another important aspect of will writing is that you can make it plain who you want to be in charge of looking after your estate and making sure your wishes are followed. This person is called an executor and you can name more than one if you wish.
Some people choose a family member while others prefer to name a solicitor who acts independently.
Making sure it is legally valid
Most solicitors offer a will writing service and there are independent companies who offer their services too.
But your will doesn’t have to be written on special paper or use complicated language as long as you follow some simple rules to make sure it is valid.
Three points are necessary:
- The document must say how you want your estate to be shared out when you die.
- It must be drawn up when you are able to make your own decisions (being of sound mind and body) and that you weren’t put under pressure by anyone named as a beneficiary in the will.
- It must be signed and dated by you in the presence of two independent adult witnesses and then counter-signed by them in your presence. The witnesses cannot be anyone who will inherit something from you or their husband/wife or civil partner.
Calculating your estate
Before you can decide who gets what you need to assess how much you’re likely to be passing on and must, therefore, calculate your estate.
Assets could include:
- Your home, and any other property you own
- Savings in the bank and building society accounts
- National Savings, such as premium bonds
- Insurance, such as life assurance or an endowment policy
- Pension funds that include a lump sum payment on death
- Investments such as stocks and shares or investment trusts
- Motor vehicles
- Jewellery, antiques and other personal belongings
- Furniture and other household contents
It’s very important not to forget the debts because they will have to be paid before the remainder of your estate can be divided up.
Typical debts include:
- A mortgage
- A credit card balance
- A bank overdraft
- Equity Release
- Council Tax
Make a plan
It is best to make a plan of action before you start drawing up the will and talk to your family about it as they might have some suggestions that you haven’t thought of.
Once you’ve decided what to do then you need to get it written. How expensive that process depends on how complex the document turns out to be.
As little as £10
Template wills which you can fill in yourself are available for as little as £10 from stationery shops. Produced professionally, a simple will could cost between £144 and £240. More complex documents can cost between £150 and £300 and are advisable if your personal situation is more complex like having been divorced and having children.
Some people need specialist wills which could involve trusts or overseas properties. You might also want tax planning advice. Completed documents at this level are likely to cost a minimum of £500.
Sign and store it
One the will is completed it must be signed and witnessed as described above and then it needs to be stored somewhere safe – at home, in the bank or lodged with a solicitor, But it is important to let the executor know where it is so it can be retrieved when the time comes.
Updating the terms
From time to time it may become necessary to update the terms of the will to take into account a major change in your life like moving house or getting a new grandchild.
Changes must never be made to the original document. Minor amendments can be made via a separate document known as a codicil which must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the original, but the witnesses don’t have to be the same people.
Substantial changes should be dealt with by creating a new will and cancelling the old one.