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How to make a will

If you have a straightforward estate that you wish to leave to either your spouse or children, it’s possible to write your will yourself. A will is a legal document that explains what you would like to happen to your property and money after you pass away.

The content of a will is individual to each person, but there are a few things everyone needs to include:

  • Names of the people you want to benefit from your will.
  • Names of the people who should take care of your children if they are under 18.
  • Details of your entire estate.
  • Name(s) of the person/people you wish to be the will’s executor(s).
  • Names of the people you wish to benefit from your will should the people originally named die before you.

To make sure that it’s legally valid, you also need to:

  • Be aged 18 or over.
  • Write it voluntarily, and be of ‘sound mind’.
  • Make it in writing (so don’t record a verbal will).
  • Sign it in front of two witnesses aged 18 or over, and have them both sign it in your presence.

It’s important that the two witnesses you choose are not named in the will as beneficiaries, and that they’re not married to anyone named in the will. If you don’t follow these requirements, your will won’t be considered valid or legally binding.

It’s always beneficial to speak to a solicitor before you write a will, even if you think your estate and wishes are straightforward. Get in touch with First4lawyers, and get personalised advice from an experienced will solicitor.

What are the different types of will?

While you can write a straightforward will, there are variations that can be helpful in particular circumstances:

  • Mirror will – Helpful for those in a relationship, if the main beneficiary of your will may out live you, you can write a mirror will. This means you write two wills for two different possibilities, one for if you pass away before and the other for if you pass away after the main beneficiary, such as your husband or wife.
  • Trust wills – Several different types of trust wills allow you to make sure various parts of your estate are properly taken care of:
    • Property trust will – Helps you specify how a property you own is taken care of so its value is retained when it’s inherited.
    • Flexible life interest trust will – Lets you set instances where you may want a main beneficiary to have access to an asset, but for ownership to pass onto other beneficiaries later.
    • Discretionary trust will – Trustees are given the ability to manage how potential beneficiaries benefit from a will.

We also have dedicated information around living wills, and how to write them.

Specific legacies, and why they’re important

Specific legacies are included in a will when you want to leave certain items or possessions to someone in particular. This might happen with family heirlooms, such as jewellery or furniture, that you wish to be passed on to a specific family member.

If this is something you want to include in your will, you need to be very specific about your wishes, as well as naming the overall beneficiary of your estate.

What makes up your estate?

The estate is the total value of all your possessions and assets. It’s important to calculate your estate accurately before writing your will, as anything you miss or forget will cause complications for your loved ones after you have passed.

Your estate includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Your property/properties.
  • Bank and building society accounts, including savings accounts.
  • Stocks and shares.
  • Pensions, both work and personal.
  • Insurance policies.
  • Possessions, especially valuable items like jewellery, technology, special collections, etc.

These are just some of the ‘standard’ parts of an estate. People with foreign properties and businesses put that in the will too, but it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of a solicitor in these cases.

Other things to consider when writing a will:

If you are in a long-term relationship but not married, or if you have remarried and have children from another relationship, your will becomes more complicated.

If you want to specify instructions for how you want to be cared for in the event of illness, you need to write a living will.

  • Do you have children? Explain what you’re leaving to them, and how they should be cared for, if applicable.

If you have a child under 16, you can specify a guardian who should take on the same parental rights and responsibilities as you have should you pass away. Remember, though, that as soon as they turn 16 they are seen as an adult by the law, so your chosen guardian cannot take on those rights.

To leave assets to children, whether money or property, you must specify how much and the age they can access them. If you want to leave a sum of money, but would rather they use it when they’re older you can put it in a trust. You can also nominate a trustee who will look after the money on behalf of the child until they reach the age they can access it.

  • Do you want to leave something for charity? Include it in your will.

To give to charity, you’ll need to name the charity, and include the registered charity number and address – this should be on the charity’s website. Also include a receipt clause so the charity’s trustee can accept the funding; and a merger clause, so the money can still go to a good cause if your original choice merges or closes down.

You’ll also need to detail if you want to leave a specific amount (pecuniary legacy), or a percentage of the estate that remains (residuary legacy) after everything has been paid.

  • Do you have pets? Specify what should happen with them after you pass away

There are two ways to ensure your pets are cared for in the event of your death: in your will, or in a special trust. If you choose to set up a trust, you should speak to a solicitor to ensure that it is legally binding.

To include a pet in your will, you need to say who the pet should be passed on to, and if there are any emergency carers who should look after the pet straight after your death. You should also specify the executor can use your estate to pay for any necessary vet bills, food and other essential items.

Are you looking for more information about wills and estates?

We have information about what to do if you want to make a living will, need to fill out probate forms, or want to start the power of attorney process.

It is recommended that you consult with a solicitor when you write your will. From writing a will for you, to checking or amending it, the experienced solicitors available through First4lawyers can help. Get in touch for personalised advice, and for peace of mind that your wishes will be taken care of after you have gone.

Note: First4lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4lawyers’ online information alone.