How to write a will
Knowing how to write a will is incredibly important if you want to make sure the right people benefit from what you leave behind. Yet it is something that far too many people set aside for years, for one reason or another.
The truth of the matter is that, as long as your financial situation isn’t very complicated, you can learn how to write a will on your own without too much hassle at all. This will help you feel a lot more comfortable about what the future holds for the people you most care about and what will happen to your estate when you pass away.
Let’s get started, then, and find out why, when, and how to write a will.
Why write a will?
The first point to think about is why you would want to make a will in the first place. Quite simply, because it’s necessary to ensure that you protect your family even when you are no longer around.
A well thought-out will makes sure that the people you leave behind get the benefit of your savings, property, possessions, and anything else that you want them to have. If you don’t leave a legally binding will then what is left behind is a rather messy situation known as intestacy. If you die intestate (without a will) then only married/civil partners and direct family relations can inherit anything, and dealing with any jointly-owned assets is very difficult.
Nearly 60% of Brits don’t have a written will and are therefore at risk of leaving a complicated situation behind for their families after their death. Even if you don’t have massive wealth to leave behind, this is still an important task that you should sort out. It can make the grieving period a lot easier for everyone else to handle, and make sure that the right people benefit when you’re gone.
When should I write a will?
Writing a will is a sensible step to take at any age. A will can be made as a person is aged over 18 and of ‘sound testamentary capacity’ (meaning the person is able to understand what they are doing and the implications of signing a will). A will can be made under the age of 18 only in the case of soldiers on active duty or sailors at sea.
It’s worth writing (or updating) a will when your situation changes significantly, such as if you buy a house, get married, or have a child. Events such as these happen at different points of peoples’ lives, so there isn’t a fixed age where it’s good to write a will. The decision should be governed by whether you need one rather than if you feel you are old enough.
How to write a will?
We tend to think of wills as being hugely complicated documents that need an expert hand. Perhaps this is because we have seen plenty of movies and TV shows based on the complexities of wills, and the problems caused if they are poorly worded. There are situations in which professional will-writing help is advised (explained below), but for many people writing your own will is straightforward as long as you know what you’re doing.
When writing a will you need to make sure all the following steps are taken:
- It must be made clear you are of sound mind, signed, and dated.
- It must also be signed by two witnesses.
- An executor should be named to carry out your wishes (make sure this person has agreed to be the executor and knows where the will is going to be kept).
- All beneficiaries must be identified by full names to avoid ambiguity.
- You should detail the different parts of your estate and its overall value (include your assets such as your house, savings, car etc. and your debts such as a mortgage or other loans).
- Be specific about what you’re leaving and to whom.
- Make sure all spelling is perfect, especially for peoples’ names.
There are two different options available to you when writing your own will: using an online/physical template or writing the whole document from scratch.
Writing a will using a template
If you’re writing your own will, then using a template is advised as it helps make sure you include all necessary information. You can buy a will template either online or from stationary shops for between about £10 and £30.
One thing to be aware of when using a will template is that, in the UK, Scottish laws differ from the laws in England and Wales when it comes to dealing with estates. This means you should check that the template you’re using is in the right format for the country in which you live.
Writing a will from scratch
Writing a will completely from scratch isn’t recommended unless you are writing a very simple will (e.g. leaving everything to your spouse or children). If you want the convenience and speed of writing a will this way, then make sure you follow all the steps laid out above, and be very careful to check the law to make sure your will is legally binding.
What if I want to change my will?
You can change your will at any time, but any changes you make must also be signed, dated, and witnessed in the same way as the original document. If you’re making a whole new will it is a good idea to destroy the previous one so there can be no possible confusion after you’re gone.
Are there circumstances in which I shouldn’t write my own will?
It is not generally advised to write your own will if your financial or family situation is at all complicated. For example, if you run a business, own property abroad, have a large investment portfolio, or have step-children, then it’s advisable to use the services of a solicitor because dividing up and valuing your estate is likely to be quite complicated.
A good rule of thumb is: if there’s anything in your situation that makes it hard to outline your wishes in a way that cannot possibly be misconstrued, you should be seeking professional advice. If hiring a lawyer is difficult because of your financial situation, there are charities such as Will Aid that can help and we have more information about will writing options to help you make the right choice.