It’s important to make sure that after you die, your assets and possessions (known as your estate) will go to the people and organisations (known as your beneficiaries) you choose, such as family members and charities you want to support.
Your estate includes your personal possessions, as well as assets such as:
- property (in the UK or overseas)
- savings and investments
- insurance funds
- pension funds
If you die without a valid will, it could be difficult for your family to sort out your affairs. Your estate will be shared out according to the rules of intestacy. Under these rules, only married partners, civil partners and certain close relatives can inherit your estate.
If you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, your partner won’t have the right to inherit – even if you’re living together.
It’s important to make a will if you:
- own property or a business
- have children
- have savings, investments or insurance policies
How to make a will
Start by making a list of the assets you want to include in your will. Then decide how you want them shared among your beneficiaries. If you want to leave a donation to a charity, you must include the charity’s full name, address and its registered charity number.
You’ll also need to consider:
- what happens if any of your beneficiaries die before you
- who should carry out the wishes in your will (your executors)
- what arrangements to make if you have children – such as naming a legal guardian or providing a trust for them
- any other wishes you have – for example, the type of funeral you want
A solicitor can give you advice about any of these issues.
Using a lawyer
You can make your will yourself, but you should only consider this if your will is straightforward. If you do make your own will, you should still get a lawyer to check it over.
To draw up your will, your lawyer will need to know:
- all the assets you want included in your will, such as property, vehicles, savings and investments
- details of who should have these assets after you die
- any other wishes – such as the type of funeral you want
- details of any children and family members, including children who are not biologically yours – such as step-children or adopted children
Executors are people named in your will who will carry out your wishes after you die. They can be family or friends, but you should ask them first if they’re willing to take on this role as it involves a lot of responsibility.
An executor can also be a professional person, such as your solicitor. If you use a solicitor for this service, you’ll have to pay a fee.
Most people have two executors, but you can have up to four. You should at least have a second executor in case your main one is unable to act on your behalf.
After you’ve made your will
Make sure it’s valid
Your will is only valid if two witnesses watch you sign it. They must also sign the will but do not need to read it. Your witnesses must:
- be over 18
- not be your beneficiaries
- not be your beneficiaries’ spouses or civil partners
Keep it safe
Make sure your executors know where your will is kept. They must have access to it without needing to apply for legal permission.
Do not store your will in a bank safety deposit box. The bank will not be able to open it until the executor gets legal permission, which won’t be granted without your will.
You can leave your will with a solicitor (they’ll give you a copy). There’s no charge for this service if you leave it with the solicitor who drew up your will.
You can also store it with the government’s Probate Service.
Keep it up to date
You should review your will every five years to make sure it’s up to date. This is especially important if your circumstances change – for example, if you:
- get married or enter a civil partnership – this will automatically cancel any existing will
- buy a new property or an expensive asset such as a new car
- divorce or separate from your partner