Everyone should have a will. It’s a legal document that records what you want to happen to your money, property and possessions after you die.
A will can also ensure that you don’t pay any more Inheritance Tax (IHT) than you need to. While you can write your will by yourself, it’s best to get advice. This is particularly relevant if your will isn’t going to be straight forward.
Your will has to be formally witnessed and then signed in order to make it legal. If you want to make changes to your will then you will have to either make a new one or make an official alteration called a codicil.
If you do not make a will, then the law decides what happens to your money, possessions and property.
What should be on your will?
Your will needs to be clear about who you want to benefit, who should be in charge of any children under the age of 18, who you want to carry out your wishes after you die (known as an executor) and what happens if the people you want to benefit from your estate should die first.
When should you get legal advice?
It’s always a good idea to get legal advice but particularly in certain circumstances. If you share a property with someone who isn’t your spouse or civil partner, for example.
Other reasons to get legal advice include:
- Wanting to leave money or property to someone who can’t care for themselves.
- If you have several family members who could make a claim on your estate (for example, children from another marriage)
- If your permanent home is not in the UK.
- If you have overseas property.
- If you own a business.
Storing your will
You have to keep your will safe at home or in storage. If you choose to store it then you can leave it with your bank, a solicitor or a specific will storage company. You could also store it at the London Probate Service if you prefer.
Wherever you decide to keep your Will, you must inform the executor you’ve chosen of its whereabouts.
Making your will legal
In order for your will to be considered valid, you have to be 18 or over when you make it. It must be made voluntarily and you must be of sound mind. Furthermore, the will must be in writing and be signed in the presence of two witnesses (both of whom must be over 18).
The will then needs to be signed by the two witnesses, also in your presence. Any changes you make will have to go through the same process of signing and witnessing.
When to update your will
You should have your Will reviewed every five years and after any major life changing event. These include getting divorced, getting married, having a child, if the executor named in your will dies, or if you move to a new house.
Making changes to your will
Once your will has been signed and witnessed you can’t make any further changes without an official alteration. This is called a codicil and must be witnessed in the same way as the original will.
You can make any number of codicils but sometimes it’s simpler just to make a new Will. If you decide to make a new one, then it should explain that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. The old version should be burned or torn up in order to make sure it’s completely destroyed.