Steps to follow
There are a number of good reasons for making a will: not least that you can arrange your affairs so your loved ones pay less tax after you’ve gone; and you can leave your possessions to whoever you choose (if you die without making a will, your assets will be distributed according to the law which may not correspond with your wishes).
A will is only be valid if it is: made by someone aged 18 or over; in writing; signed by the will-maker and two witnesses (who mustn’t be beneficiaries); made voluntarily without pressure from another; and made by someone of sound mind (ie, you must understand what the will is for and be aware of the property being left and the identify of beneficiaries).
If you make a will but it’s not legally valid, when you die your assets will be divided up under the intestacy rules, not according to what you’ve specified in the will.
Mistakes in a will can prove costly too: errors can lead to legal disputes after you’ve gone which can cost loads thus considerably lowering the worth of your estate. Common problems include not taking into account all the assets available; failing to consider the possibility that a beneficiary may die before you; not realising that rules exist to allow dependants to claim from your estate if they think they’ve been hard done by which could ultimately mean the whole will being overturned.
Before you go and see a solicitor or will-writer you can save time and money by making a list of what assets you have – including things like property, cash, insurance policies, personal pensions, savings and shares – and how you’d like them distributed. Jot down as well who you’d like to get what. You also need to decide who you want to look after any of your children who are under 18 and who you want as your executors.
The executors of a will make sure your wishes are carried out as specified. They gather together all the assets of the estate, deal with paperwork and pay all debts, taxes, funeral and administration costs out of money in the estate. They are also responsible for doling out the gifts and transferring property to beneficiaries. It’s better to have at least two executors in case one of them dies before you. Make sure you choose someone who can cope with the responsibility and sound them out before you appoint them as they have the right to refuse the job.
What to watch out for
If you want to make any changes to your will after it’s all finished and legal, you need to make sure the alterations are signed and witnessed, otherwise they won’t be valid. Changes to a will should be made via a codicil (a supplement to a will which makes some changes but leaves the rest as is) or by making a totally new will (this should start with a clause saying that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. The old will should then be destroyed).
Solicitor’s top tip
You don’t necessarily need a solicitor to write your will – there are DIY will kits available on the internet and there are will-writers who’ll do the job for you. However, unlike solicitors, will-writers are generally not regulated so you have little comeback if things go wrong. For this reason, you’re strongly advised to see a solicitor – especially if your affairs are complicated – even if it’s just to check something you’ve drawn up yourself.
Age Concern - making a will if you're over 60
Help the Aged
Law Society - solicitors specialising in wills
The Society Of Will Writers and Estate Planning Practitioners
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners
Do I need a lawyer? (personal)
How to get access to and manage the estate of a deceased loved one
Writing a will