Writing a will

Writing a will enables you to decide what happens to your property, possessions and money after you die. Putting your wishes in writing is one of the most important things you can do to ensure they’re carried out and your loved ones are provided for.

How to write a will

These are the key steps you need to take in order to write a will. We’ll go into more detail on some of these steps later on.

1. Get your estate valued

Before making a will, you need to know what your estate is worth. Your ‘estate’ comprises your property, possessions and money. It also includes any debts, such as outstanding mortgages, credit card balances, loans and bank overdrafts.

2. Divide your estate

Once your estate has been valued, you’ll need to decide who will benefit from it. You may also want to consider a contingency plan in the event that your chosen beneficiaries die before you do.

3. Name your executor

An executor is the person – or people – who are legally responsible for carrying out your wishes in accordance with your will.

While you can write a will yourself, it’s easy to make mistakes which can cause problems later on. As such, it can be a good idea to seek advice from a qualified solicitor or reputable online provider. The best option for you will depend on how complex your estate is.

5. Draft your will

Once your wishes are finalised, your will is written up.

6. Sign your will

To make your will legally binding, you’ll be asked to sign it in the presence of two independent witnesses. Your witnesses will also be required to sign. In England and Wales, witnesses must be over 18 years of age. In Scotland, it’s over 16. It’s important to note that your beneficiaries aren’t allowed to act as witnesses.

How to value your estate

As mentioned above, your estate comprises your assets as well as your debts. You need to calculate what these are worth in order to know the overall value of your estate.

Assets include:

  • any property you own in the UK or abroad;
  • savings and investments;
  • insurance policies;
  • valuable personal belongings like jewellery; and
  • furniture and household contents.

Debts include:

  • a mortgage or equity release;
  • credit card balances;
  • bank overdrafts; and
  • loans.

Once you know the value of your estate, it’s up to you to divide it how you see fit and decide who will benefit.

How to choose an executor

An executor is the person who is legally responsible for executing your wishes in accordance with your will. It can be a lot of work for the chosen individual, and also involves them taking on any outstanding debts and dealing with possible disputes. You can ask more than one person to be your executor so that the responsibility is shared. Most people ask immediate family – spouses, civil partners and children are the most commonly appointed. Some people also ask close friends. Whoever you choose, it’s important that they understand what the role involves.

When should I write a will?

There’s no set timeline when it comes to writing a will, but it’s good to be proactive. Most people do this as they begin accumulating assets or hitting key milestones in life. For example, buying a first home, getting married or having children. It’s natural to start thinking about what would happen to your estate and loved ones when you’re no longer around. Making a will can give you peace of mind that you’re in control.

Updating your will

It’s a good idea to regularly check your will to see if you need to make any updates or changes. It’s recommended to make sure your will is up to date every five years to ensure it still accurately reflects your wishes. But you’ll need to update it more frequently if you make any major life changes. For example, if you buy a property, get married or divorced, or start a family. You can make as many changes as you like, but they must be witnessed. Once you’ve made changes, to avoid any legal complications make sure you destroy your old will. It’s also wise to let your solicitor, executors or beneficiaries know that you’ve updated your will.

Can I include my pension in my will?

You can mention your pension in your will if you want to eliminate any doubt over your wishes, but it’s recommended that you still contact your pension provider in order to add your beneficiaries to your policy. At PensionBee, you can log in to your BeeHive and name your beneficiary or beneficiaries in your account settings. It’s very important that you make your provider aware of who your beneficiaries are, because the decision of who your pension goes to is at their discretion.

Using a will service

If you’d rather not write your own will, you have the option to pay for a will-writing service. Will-writing services include independent professionals and solicitors as well as some banks. When choosing a service, you’ll need to bear in mind cost. Prices will vary, although solicitors tend to be more expensive. It’s worth considering Free Wills Month which is a free service available to those aged 55 and over during March and October. Sign up via their website with your postcode to find your nearest participating solicitor and their availability.

What happens if I don’t make a will?

Dying without making a will is known as dying ‘intestate’. This means that your estate may not be left to the people you want it to be left to. For example, if you’re in a relationship but unmarried, your partner will have no automatic rights to inherit from you. This can be distressing for those left behind and cause disputes over who gets what. Making a will can negate these risks. You can read more about the rules of intestate on the government’s website.

Find out more on The Pension Confident Podcast

Listen to episode 20 of The Pension Confident Podcast and hear from our guests as they discuss power of attorney, wills, and probate. You can also watch the episode on YouTube or read the full transcript.

If you’re interested in learning more about looking after family members, what to do when expecting a baby, or family problems like illness, divorce or bereavement, head to our Family and Care section.

Risk warning

As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.

Last edited: 06-04-2024

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