According to research commissioned by unbiased.co.uk, 60% of adults in the UK do not have a will. Many people consider a Will to be a costly and time-consuming process that must involve solicitors. However, writing a Will at home is perfectly legal and could be far simpler to do than you might imagine.
In this guide, we take a look at the process of writing your own Will at home including a step-by-step guide to doing so. We consider the pros and cons of home Will writing and cover all the things you will need to think about to make sure your Will is both comprehensive and legal.
Do I Have To Make a Will?
There is no legal requirement that insists all adults in the UK must make a Will.
The choice of pre-planning how your assets are divided and decisions made for the care of any children and pets plus the formal laying out of your funeral wishes is entirely up to you.
However, making a Will not only ensures that these decisions are not left to others but you can also ensure that your estate does not pay more Inheritance Tax than it needs to.
Anyone who dies intestate (without a Will) potentially leaves behind a quite complicated process for inheritance that could have serious consequences. For example, cohabiting partners who are neither in a civil partnership or married do not have automatic rights of inheritance. Likewise, partners who are separated but not legally divorced could inherit the entire estate ahead of any children or other relatives.
So, whilst there is no law that insist that you make a Will, there are very good reasons for doing so, particularly if you have children and/or a sizeable or complex estate.
Do I Have To Use a Solicitor to Make a Will?
Just as writing a Will is not a legal necessity, nor is using a solicitor to do so. However, in order for a Will to be considered a legal document, it must meet some basic requirements (see, 'Making Your Will Legal', below). These steps do not require a solicitor.
Should I Use a Solicitor to Make a Will?
We will cover all of the steps below that you need to know in order to make a Will at home. However, you may wish to consider using a solicitor if:
- Your estate is valued at more than £325,000 (including property). This is because there may be Inheritance Tax to be paid and a solicitor should be able to advise you on the best way to divide your assets to minimise this cost.
- Your family situation is complicated. This may include (but is not limited to) estranged children or former partners, ongoing divorce proceedings and shared custody of minors.
- You have business assets. If you share these with someone who is not your spouse or partner then you may need to take legal advice on how best to proceed with your business arrangements.
- You have overseas assets. This could include property or accounts that are held off-shore.
- You have dependants with complex needs such as a disabled child. If you are a carer for other family members and currently hold a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) then you may also wish to seek additional legal advice on this.
- You have any last wishes that could be considered 'complex' which could be misinterpreted.
The decision to use a solicitor is entirely up to you but if you are unsure and require legal advice or any additional support then it is recommended you seek it.
The cost of drawing up a Will with a solicitor should cost between £100 and £300. However, if you have a complex estate which involves overseas assets and/or trust funds plus you are making a joint Will then this cost could rise to over £600.
Lastly, when you have a Will written by a solicitor, they will also be able to store this for you (see 'What To Do With a Will One It Is Written', below). Extra fees may be charged for this service.
What Are The Costs for a Will Writing Service?
Unlike solicitors, the advisors employed by Will writing services are not generally legally trained and can therefore not provide you with the level of support and advise that a trained lawyer can.
These services are simply a practical and easy way for many people to write a Will. Often based online and with services starting at around £50, you do get what you pay for; a simple Will.
It is worth remembering that the regulations for these services are not the same as for solicitors and therefore there are no guarantees over the quality of service provided. If you are considering a Will writing service then you should ensure that the company is a member of either The Institute of Professional Will Writers or The Society of Will Writers.
Some charities offer a free Will writing service in the hope that by offering to do so that people will bequeath something to their organisation in your Will. Each charity has its own terms and conditions for this service with some offering to do so using a solicitor. Cancer Research, for example, offer a free service to the over 55s either online, over the phone or using one of their partner law firms.
Remember….whilst cheaper than a solicitor and practical for simple Will writing, it is even cheaper to write your own Will at home.
Lastly, most Will writing services do not offer to store your Will for you but those that do usually charge additional fees for doing so (see 'What To Do With a Will One It Is Written', below).
Making a Will at Home: Step by Step Guide of What to Include in a Will
Whilst, in theory, you can create a Will simply by writing one from scratch, there are plenty of Will-writing templates or kits that you can buy to make the process easier. As long as you follow the guidance below on 'Making Your Will Legal' then you can follow the steps to produce a home Will using either a template or creating your own document.
A basic Will writing kit can cost as little as £10 whereas writing one yourself is free. In this way, home Will writing is far cheaper than using a solicitor or other service; however, it is very important that you follow all of the guidance in this document to ensure that your Will is valid.
Remember, writing your own Will is only suitable if your financial situation is simple and your wishes are not complicated.
Decide on a Template or Start From Scratch
Templates are an easier way to write your own Will and are suitable for most people who have relatively straight forward estates to settle and few complicating family affairs to organise after death.
One of the benefits of a template (or Will writing kit) is that they indicate exactly where and how you (and a witness) should sign and date the document to ensure it is legal. Many are also pre-worded using the correct terminology that will mean your wishes are clear and easy to execute after your death.
A Will writing template can be purchased, ordered or downloaded online or you can pick one up from many stationers or your local Post Office.
Step 1. List Your Assets and Calculate the Estimated Value of Your Estate
Calculate the estimated value of your estate by making a list of all your major assets, including (but not limited to):
- Your home, or your share in it
- Any other property you own
- Cars and any other vehicles
- Home contents including furniture
- Items of high value such as jewellery, art or collectibles
- Money held in banks or building societies
- Investments such as shares, stocks and bonds
- Any other savings or assets, including those held overseas.
You will then need to deduct your major liabilities (moneys owed). This should include:
- Credit cards balances
- HP Agreements
- Other credit liabilities, including any held overseas
Once you have netted your liabilities from your assets you will reach an estimated figure to represent the net value of your estate. If this figure exceeds £325,000 then your estate will be subject to Inheritance Tax. If this is the case then you may wish to consider seeking advice at this stage in order to reduce the amount of tax paid on your estate. If, however, you are planning to leave everything above the value of £325,000 to your spouse (or civil partner) or a charity then there is normally no Inheritance Tax to pay.
Step 2. Make a List of Beneficiaries & Decided Who Gets What
Many people simply choose to split the value of their estate by percentages. In this way, the residual sum (after any taxes, fees after deaths such as funeral costs, solicitors etc) can easily be divided between the named beneficiaries.
However, some people prefer to specify a sum of money or particular item. This may be important with family heirlooms that have a sentimental and/or financial value or simply relate to items that family members or friends have shown an interest in having. Although you may have told someone that they could have an item after your death, unless you have specified this in your Will then there is no legal basing for their inhering it.
It is important to be very specific about naming your beneficiaries and including their full name and address so there is no confusion about who is being referred to.
Do not use phrases like 'my sister' or 'my wife'. Use their full name whenever they are mentioned. It is also worth checking your spelling so there is no doubt about who is being referred to.
Likewise, if you are bequeathing an item then you will need to describe it very carefully along with any special instructions you may have for its future. For example, an item of jewellery that may have been in your family for years may be passed to a grandchild but you can also stipulate that the item be kept in the family. Though there is no legal requirement for this to be honoured, you should make your wishes clear.
Make a full list of all family and friends plus any charities that you would like to benefit from your estate after death.
If you are leaving instructions to distribute money specifically then try to be exact about the sums.
For example, you may wish to leave the contents of a single bank account to one person whilst another receives a sum of £5,000. You may then decide to leave 80% of the remaining balance of your estate to be divided equally between your children with the remainder going to a specific charity.
However you choose to divide your assets, make sure that you are clear and concise about your wishes so there is no room for any misunderstanding.
When you are calculating specific legacies, always ensure that you take into consideration any Inheritance Tax that may be due plus any sum which may be needed to cover the costs of your funeral and other fees due during the settlement of your estate.
Property: How To Leave a House to Someone in a Will
With few exceptions, the property you own will be the largest asset that you leave when you die. It is also one of the most important aspects of your estate, particularly if you share your home with a spouse, other adults or children.
Most people would like to know that their home will be securely passed to their family after their death but inheritance on this can be complicated, depending on how you own your property.
If you are the sole owner of your home and you own it outright with no mortgage then you can simply name a new title holder in your Will.
If you jointly own a property outright then the way ownership is transferred differs depending on where you are in the UK.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, there are two forms of joint ownership:
- Tenancy in Common – If this the case then you can leave your share of your home to someone else who will take over your tenancy in common along with the other owner of the property.
- Joint Tenancy – If you hold a joint tenancy then your share of the property automatically transfers to the other, surviving, joint tenant.
In Scotland, the way ownership is shared is expressly written on the Title Deed itself. Joint owners must detail a survivorship clause when the deeds are drawn up to establish how ownership is transferred in the event of death of one of the joint owners.
If you do not own your home outright and there is an outstanding mortgage to pay then your beneficiaries must contact the mortgage lender to make new arrangements for the ongoing payment (or settlement) of the loan.
Whilst you can pass on the ownership of your property to anyone you wish, you could include what is known as a 'right of residence' to allow someone to live in your home for a specified time. This is commonly used in conjunction with guardianship for children and enables your children to continue to live in the family home whilst being cared for by your nominated guardians. However, the guardians themselves will not own the property and may only remain there until such time as the children are all over the age of 18, or finish university etc. You can decide the term of the right of residence and make this clear in your Will.
It is worth remembering when you decide on who is to inherit your house this can be affected by Inheritance Tax.
- Your spouse does not pay any Inheritance Tax on a property that is passed to them.
- If you leave your home to your children or grandchildren then they may do so tax-free at an increased Inheritance Tax threshold of £450,000 (and if your estate is worth less than £2,000,000.
- If, however, you leave your house to anyone else other than your spouse, children or grandchildren, the basic threshold of Inheritance Tax for your estate of £325,000 will be applied.
If you own any assets outside of the UK then the way these are dealt with for the purposes of inheritance will be under the local jurisdiction of the country in which those assets are held.
In this respect your Will may not be valid when it comes to how these assets are divided and it is important to seek legal advice in respect of these matters.
As a general guide, local intestacy rules are often applied for the division of assets held by foreigners.
Pensions: Nominating Beneficiaries for Your Death Benefits
If you have a pension then you will usually nominate the beneficiaries for any death benefits with the pension company directly but you should also clarify this in your Will.
Most pension schemes will pay out a cash sum in the event of your death whilst some pay out a 'survivors' pension' which is paid out in instalments.
Leaving a Business Interest in Your Will
If you have financial interest in a business then you detail how you wish these to be divided in your Will. However, it is worth considering how the choice of beneficiary will have an impact on the future of how your business is to run.
Always talk to any business partner(s) in this decision and consider taking legal advice to ensure there are no complications.
Charities: Donating Money in Your Will
If you wish to donate some money to charity in your Will then doing so can reduce your Inheritance Tax.
As well as helping to support a good cause, if you leave more than 10% of your estate to a charity (or other organisation such as a political party, community sports club or university) then the Inheritance Tax on the remainder of your estate is reduced from 40% to 36%.
You can find more information about this aspect of Inheritance Tax on the Government website.
Step 3. Make Specific Arrangements for Your Children
If you are responsible for the care of a minor (anyone under the age of 18), whether this is your own child (or children) or you are the guardian for someone else's children, you will need to make a provision for their care after your death.
If the other parent survives you then guardianship usually passes to the other but this is worth reiterating to avoid any doubt with the courts.
You should also make provision in your Will for the eventuality that both parents die at the same time. Whilst this may be a difficult thing to imagine, you should consider who you would like to raise your children in this event. This must also be laid out if you are the only parent or guardian.
If you do not appoint a guardian in your Will then it will be left for the family courts to decide where your children will be placed until they are 18 and how any money they are entitled to inherit will be managed, and by whom.
You will also need to determine how your guardians will be given money to look after your children and can stipulate a trust fund that can cover this provision.
Where your children inherit property or money from your estate, it is commonly held in trust for them. This is usually until they are 18 but you can specify this along with other instructions for the funds are to be managed and by whom. You can choose someone specifically to deal with the finances of your children's trust fund or you can let your executors do this on your behalf. This would be the default position in accordance with trustee laws.
It is worth discussing your planned arrangements for the care of your children with the proposed guardians before you appoint them in your Will.
If your children are over the age of 18 when you die then the current laws enable them to inherit outright at this age. Some parents would prefer their children not to acquire large sums of money at this age and you can stipulate a trust that is only accessible at an older age or tied to events such as finishing university etc.
Step 4. Make Care Arrangement for Others
Children are not the only people that you may need to consider care arrangements for. If you have elderly parents or dependant adults living with you then you will need to outline your wishes for their care.
Don't forget to include how the finances of this are to be taken care of.
If you do not have any dependants such a children or relatives you may still need to consider the care of others in your Will.
If you have any pets then don't forget to include your wishes of how they will continue to be looked after in the event of your death. As with any arrangement of this nature, it is always best to check with the people you would like to pass guardianship to beforehand to ensure they are happy to be named in your Will.
As with children, parents or other relatives you make care arrangements for, if you have any specific instructions regarding that provision, you should outline these clearly and carefully along with any necessary financial provisions that may be needed.
Step 5. Decide on Your Executors
You will need to officially appoint those persons who you wish to act as executors to your estate in the event of your death. You should speak with the people you wish to nominate before naming them in your Will.
It will be their job to execute the wishes made in your Will including the division of your assets plus will have further responsibilities in relation to the payment of your Inheritance Tax and dealing with the Probate Registry.
Step 6. Instructions for your funeral
It is common for people to leave any specific wishes they may have about their funeral such as whether they wish to be buried or cremated.
Some people include additional information here including wishes about organ donation. Whilst this may be practical to have written up in your Will, it is recommended that you make these views known to your next of kin as well. Often, a Will is not read until some days (or even weeks) after death and the opportunity for organ donation may have passed by this point.
It is important to note that any requests made in your Will for your funeral (and any other last wishes) are not legally-binding instructions. Your executor has authority to make the decisions in this respect but most often they will be followed where they are made clear. For this reason, it is essential that you advise your executor of where your Will is stored (see 'What To Do With a Will Once it is Written', below) and let your next of kin know too.
Step 7. Revoke Any Former Wills
If you have not made a Will before then you will not need to do this.
Making a new Will does not automatically replace any previous Will that you may have made unless you specifically state that your new Will does so. You should also state that the new Will is the most recent version.
You can also revoke a former Will by destroying it; you can do this by burning it (safely) or by making it entirely illegible. You should be aware that if any portion of the Will remains, it could be found to be an unintentional act by a court and the surviving portion could technically still be valid.
Another way to revoke a Will is to make a declaration in writing that you have done so. To make this revocation legally valid, it must be signed, dated and witnessed.
It is worth noting that a Will is automatically revoked when you get married (or enter a civil partnership) unless your Will was written in contemplation of marriage. Likewise, elements of your Will that relate to a spouse or civil partner are automatically revoked when you get divorced or dissolve the partnership. This only applies to any bequeaths that are made to your spouse or civil partner.
Step 8. Documents Checklist
Although not an official part of any Will, it is useful to include, alongside your Last Will and Testament, a list of key contacts, where important documents may be found as well as useful reference numbers. This can be extremely helpful for your executors when they come to handle your financial affairs.
Items to include within this checklist are:
- Your National Insurance Number.
- Your Tax Reference Number.
- Contact details of your accountant.
- Contact details of your solicitor.
- Contact details of your financial adviser.
- Contact details of your employer.
- Location of your Birth Certificate.
- Location of your Marriage Certificate.
- Location of your Divorce decree.
- Location of your passport.
- Location of your Title Deeds or Mortgage Agreement.
- Details of your bank accounts, building societies and any savings accounts.
- Location or details of share certificates, bonds and other investment certificates.
- List of any other properties owned along with full address details and information on any loans tied to them.
Step 9. Make Your Will Legal
A Will is not considered legal until it has been signed, dated and witnessed.
See 'Making Your Will Legal', below.
Step 10. Store Your Will Safely
Once your Will has been signed, witnessed and dated you will need to ensure it is stored somewhere that is safe and secure, but accessible by your executors when it is needed.
See 'What To Do With a Will Once it is Written', below.
Step 11. Tell Your Executor Where Your Will is
Once you have finalised your Will, made it legal and stored it safely then you should let your executors(s) know where and how they can find it in the event of your death.
Step 12. Keeping Your Will Up To Date
Don't forget to review your Will regularly to ensure that the provisions you have made are still appropriate and reflect your current circumstances and wishes.
It is generally recommended that you review your Will every five years or after major events such as marriage, separation, divorce, having (more) children or buying a new house.
You should note that you cannot change a Will after it has been signed and Witnessed; however, you can add to a Will using an additional document known as a codicil.
A codicil must also be signed, dated and witnessed in order to make it a valid supplementary document to the original Will. Codicils should be stored along with the Will in a safe and secure place.
Making Your Will Legal
Whilst there are no regulations on the structure of a Will nor the way in which this is written (either via a DIY Will kit or through a solicitor), in order for it to be considered valid it does need to be both signed, witnessed and dated.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, your Will should be witnessed by two people aged over 18.
In Scotland, you will only need one adult to witness your Will.
A witness must not be a named beneficiary of your Will although they can be named as one of your executors. For clarification, an executor can be beneficiary as long as they are not also a witness.
You should note that only persons who are of sound mind, over the age of 18 and not under duress can make a valid Will.
What To Do With a Will Once it is Written
Your signed and witnessed Will is a very important document and must be stored carefully. The original document must be presented to the Probate Registry by your executors after your death in order to carry out the wishes contained within it.
There is no legal obligation for you to store your Will with any official registry or service provider but doing so can guarantee it is kept free from damage or being lost.
You have several options about how to keep your Will safe including:
- In a safe place at home. Be aware of the risks of this option which include damage from fire, floods etc. or even the possibility of it being stolen
- In a safe deposit box with your bank. There are fees for doing this plus your Executors will need to be able to access the safety deposit box in order to prove they have a right to act on your behalf….meaning they will need the Will to do this!
- With the Probate Registry. Again, there is a charge for doing this.
- With a solicitor or Will writing service. Most legal firms will charge for doing this but some do offer to do this for free. For instance, Co-op Legal Services will store your Will free for life.