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Making a will

A will is the only way to make sure your money, property, possessions and investments (known as your estate) go to the people and causes you care about.

  • How to write a will
  • How do I make sure my will is valid?
  • How do I update my will?
  • What happens if I don’t make a will?

If you and your partner aren’t married or in a civil partnership, your partner won’t have a right to inherit if you don’t have a will.

How to write a will

Step 1
Value your estate

Get an idea of what your estate will be worth by drawing up a list of your assets and debts.

Assets that typically make up an estate include:

  • your home, and any other property you own
  • savings in 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

Debts may include:

  • a mortgage
  • a credit card balance
  • a bank overdraft
  • loans
  • equity release

Get your assets valued regularly because the value of them can change over time.

Step 2
Decide how you want to divide your estate

You should make sure that it’s absolutely clear what you want to happen to your whole estate. Think about:

  • who you want to benefit from your will
  • whether you wish to give any specific gifts to particular people
  • where the residue of the estate is to go (any property or money left over after paying funeral and administrative expenses, legacies and taxes)
  • what you want to happen if any of your beneficiaries should die before you
Step 3
You may decide to leave a donation to a charity

If you plan to leave a gift to a charity in your will, make sure you include the charity’s full name, address and registered charity number. Incorrect information may mean your chosen charity doesn’t receive the gift.

Step 4
Choose your executors

Executors are the people who deal with distributing your estate after you’ve died. Being an executor can involve a lot of work and responsibility, so consider the people you appoint carefully.

Step 5
Write your will

You can do this in a number of ways.

  • Lawyers: It’s usually best to get advice from a lawyer (for example, a solicitor or chartered legal executive). You may wish to speak to a lawyer who specialises in wills and probate (applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions). Check they are licensed with the relevant professional body, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority or Law Society.
  • Professional will writers: Professional will writers aren’t qualified solicitors and may not be regulated. If you decide to use one, first check whether they are a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters.
  • Charities: Some charities and specific campaigns offer free will-drafting services to encourage will making and charitable legacies (although there’s no obligation). If there’s a particular charity that you favour, check whether they provide this service. For more information visit Will Aid or Free Wills Month – Age UK takes part in these schemes.
  • Banks: Some banks offer will-writing services and advice about estate planning. Contact your local branch to book an appointment with an adviser to find out what they can offer. Some banks charge high fees for this service.
  • Make your own will: You can make your own will but you must make sure that it’s valid. A will is a legal document so it needs to be written and signed correctly. If you decide to make your own will, it’s best to seek advice first.
Step 6
Sign your will

You must sign your will in the presence of independent witnesses for it to be valid. Find out more below.

Step 7
Store your will safely

Leave your will with a solicitor, bank, safely stored at home or with the Probate Service. Find your local Probate Service through GOV.UK.

You must let your executors know where your will is kept. Don’t attach any documents to the will with paperclips or staples – if they detach and leave marks it will raise questions about whether the will is missing any parts or amendments.

How do I make sure my will is valid?

For a will to be valid:

  • it must be in writing, signed by you, and witnessed by two people
  • you must have the mental capacity to make the will and understand the effect it will have
  • you must have made the will voluntarily and without pressure from anyone else.

The beginning of the will should state that it revokes all others. If you have an earlier will, you should destroy it.

Signing and witnessing the will

You must sign your will in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must also sign it in your presence – so all three people should be in the room together when each one signs. If the will is signed incorrectly, it is not valid.

Beneficiaries of the will, their spouses or civil partners shouldn’t act as witnesses, or they lose their right to the inheritance. Beneficiaries shouldn’t even be present in the room when the will is signed. It’s also best not to ask an executor to act as a witness.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, changes have been made to the rules for witnessing wills. These allow different approaches to witnesses being physically present in the room with you when signing the will.

You are now able to legally witness a will signing:

  • through a window or open door of a house or a vehicle
  • from a corridor or adjacent room into a room with the door open
  • outdoors from a short distance, for example in a garden
  • over a video call.

For more information on signing a will over a video call

Making a will if you have an illness or dementia

If you can’t sign the will, it can also be signed on your behalf, as long as you’re in the room and it is signed at your direction. However, you must have the mental capacity to make the will, otherwise the will is invalid. Any will signed on your behalf must contain a clause saying you understood the contents of the will before it was signed.

If you have a serious illness or a diagnosis of dementia, you can still make a will, but you need to have the mental capacity to make sure it is valid. Your solicitor should make sure of this, and you may need a medical practitioner’s statement at the time the will is signed, certifying that you understand what you are signing.

How do I update my will?

You should review your will every five years and after any major change in your life such as a new grandchild or moving house. Never make alterations on the original document.

If you are making a minor amendment to your will, you can add a supplement, known as a codicil. This must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the will, although the witnesses don’t have to be the same as the original ones.

If anything substantial needs to be changed, you should make a new will and cancel your old one.

Do I have to change my will if I get remarried or divorced?

If you marry, remarry or enter a civil partnership, this cancels a previously existing will. Divorce doesn’t automatically invalidate a will made during the marriage, but does exclude your ex-spouse or civil partner from benefitting if they are mentioned in the will. Arrange a new will if you marry, separate or divorce.

What happens if I don’t make a will?

If you don’t make a will, you will die ‘intestate’ and your estate may not go to the people you want. There are special rules for how your estate will be distributed these are called intestacy rules.

  • If you have a spouse or civil partner and children, your spouse or civil partner will inherit all your personal possessions and at least the first £250,000 of your estate, plus half the rest. Your children will then be entitled to the other half of the balance.
  • If you have a spouse or civil partner but don’t have children your spouse or civil partner will inherit your whole estate, including your personal possessions.
  • If you and your partner aren’t married or in a civil partnership and you haven’t made a will, they have no automatic right to inherit from your estate. This applies even if you’ve lived together for a long time or have children together.
  • If you have children and your spouse or partner is deceased your children will inherit everything, divided equally between them.
  • If you don’t have a partner or children then parents, brothers, sisters, and nieces and nephews may inherit your estate.

Planning for retirement: Making a will

Paul Lewis, financial expert and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Moneybox, talks about why you should make a will

Further information

If you want to write a will but need some more advice, here’s where you can get more information.

For more information call the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 678 1602.
We’re open 8am to 7pm, every day of the year.

You help make our work possible

Leaving a gift in your will to Age UK is a special way to make sure older people have the support they need in the years to come. Learn how a gift in your will could be a lifeline for those who have nowhere else to turn.

The importance of making a will

Content provided by nudge, the financial wellbeing platform that helps people take control of their money.

The only way to make sure that your estate (money, possessions and property) goes to specific people after your death is to create a will. This is a legal testament of how someone wants their estate distributed after their death.

A will tells everyone what should happen after your death, making the process less time-consuming and uncertain for your loved ones.

What else can you do with a will?

As well as allowing you to allocate your money, possessions, and property to loved ones after your death, you can also do the following.

  • Appoint guardians for any children under 18 and make financial arrangements for them as they grow up.
  • Set up trusts. Please consider the Inheritance Tax implications by speaking to a tax adviser or HMRC directly.
  • Name the executors of your will (people who’ll make sure your instructions are carried out when you die).
  • Make your own funeral arrangements.

If you don’t have a will, your estate will be divided according to intestacy rules. This means that if you’re unmarried and don’t have a will, your partner may not be legally entitled to your estate.

A will is the only way to make sure that your estate is taken care of. This is not just in financial terms but also in the care and living arrangements of your children and/or partner.

You can write a will in many ways, though your best option will be determined by how complex your wishes are.

  • A specialist solicitor is advisable if your estate is quite intricate (for example, you want to set up trusts or have money overseas) as you’ll need a higher service level. They usually cost between £150-£300.
  • A will writer (note, they’re not solicitors) normally charges between £75-£150.
  • You can buy a template document or use online companies if your needs are simple and basic. To make the will valid, you’ll need to say how your estate should be shared and sign and date it in front of two witnesses, who’ll also need to sign it.

You may wish to amend your will or create a new will when circumstances change. For example, if you have a child or someone named in your will passes away. Getting married will invalidate an existing will, so you may want to revisit that. If you only want to make minor changes, you can add what’s called a ‘codicil’ to your existing will, rather than writing an entirely new will. A codicil must be witnessed and signed the same way as a will, though there’s no limit on how many of these changes you can make.

What happens if you don’t have a will

If you don’t have a will, the law decides how your estate (money, property and possessions) is divided. When you die without a will, this is called intestacy or dying intestate. Intestacy law then decides who’ll inherit your estate.

There are slight variations across the UK, but if you don’t have a will, your estate will generally be divided. See below for examples.

  • Spouse/civil partner with no children: Your spouse or civil partner inherits everything (old rules split the estate with siblings and parents if it was over £450,000).
  • Spouse/civil partner and children: Your spouse or civil partner inherits the first £270,000, then half of the remainder of your estate. The remaining assets are held in trust for your children until they’re 18.
  • No spouse/civil partner but children: Everything goes to your children in equal shares.
  • No spouse/civil partner or children but parents: Everything goes to your parents in equal shares.
  • No spouse/civil partner, children or parents but other living relatives: Everything goes to other relatives in the following order. First, siblings (or their children if they are passed on), then grandparents, uncles and aunts (or their children if they are passed on). Whole blood relatives receive preference over half-blood relatives.
  • No spouse/civil partner, children, parents or living relatives: Everything goes to the State.

You should also be aware of the three rules listed below and whether they’re in opposition to your wishes.

  • If you have a partner (who is not a spouse/civil partner) or step-children, they won’t be able to inherit unless stated in a will.
  • If you don’t have immediate family, you may have friends that you’d prefer to leave money to over relatives you don’t know. Again, this won’t happen unless you have a will.
  • Spouses or civil partners you’re separated from but not divorced would still inherit some or all of your estate under these rules if there’s no will.

The only way to make sure that your money and possessions go to the people you want after your death is to create a will.