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A man signing a will

Wills - what you need to know

Our comprehensive guide will help you know what’s what with Wills.

It’s important to have a Will in place for a number of reasons:

  • It gives you choice on who inherits
  • It makes it easier for those left behind
  • It can help ease Inheritance Tax.

Wills allow you to state who shall inherit from your estate, i.e. your property and belongings, and how much they shall inherit. There are a number of ways to make a Will:

  • You can do it yourself
  • Use a Will-writing service
  • Use a solicitor.

Why should you make a Will?

No one likes to think about dying, but unfortunately it’s a reality for us all, and it’s important to be prepared, especially when it comes to making a Will. This is especially true if you have dependants (i.e. partner or children), or you have specific wishes for your estate. But there are other reasons to make a Will too:

Your choice

A Will gives you the power to decide who inherits what upon your death. Without a Will this is left up to the law to decide, and it may not match up with your wishes.

For example, if you’re not married, no matter how long you’ve been together your partner will not inherit from your estate. In contrast, if you are married, they are likely to inherit everything and if you have children this would leave them without (except in Scotland). This will also apply even where you have separated but are not legally divorced.

Additionally, if you don’t have family, a Will allows for the money to be distributed as you wish, either to a charity or to a friend. The alternative is that it is all left to the Crown/the government, which is the case if you don’t have a Will or any close relatives, under a law called ‘bona vacantia’.

Making it easier

The process of sorting out a loved one’s estate is never easy, but it is much more stressful, complicated and time-consuming without a Will.  Having a Will in place makes it much easier for your family to sort your estate, during what will already be a difficult time. A Will also helps your family to know that they are acting within your wishes.

Inheritance Tax

Nobody likes Inheritance Tax, least of all those who are left behind to pay it. Having a Will in place may help to reduce this tax. For example, Inheritance Tax can be reduced by gifting items to your partner, or family and friends. By doing this the gift’s value will be deducted from the total value of the estate, meaning that Inheritance Tax does not have to be paid. Alternatively, leaving money to a charity, or putting money in a Trust can also help to lessen Inheritance Tax.

What should you include in a Will?

What you should include in a Will depends on the type of Will you choose , but there are certain things you should consider including.

Before you draw up your Will it is beneficial to have your estate valued, this typically includes any property you may own, plus any savings/money in your bank accounts, and also personal belongings. Once you know the value of these you can include them in your Will in good knowledge.

Important things to include within the estate section of your Will may be:

  • Jewellery and antiques, or other valuables, e.g. art
  • Other personal belongings
  • Any property you own, including your own house
  • Life insurance or endowment policies (unless they automatically have a beneficiary anyway)
  • National savings, e.g. Premium Bonds (if these are held online it is also useful to leave a record of passwords for family members, this is also true with bank accounts)
  • Cars or other vehicles you may wish to bequeath
  • Household contents and furniture

Another thing that is important to include is guardianship. If you are the parent or guardian of any young children (under 18) then a Will allows you to state a guardian for them, so that they can be taken care of in the best possible way. While the law allows for the children of those without a Will to go to your closest relative or spouse, this may not be in line with your wishes so it’s important to state this.

What you can’t include in a Will:

Gifts for pets, as they cannot legally own property

Arranging care for a special needs person – this is better within a Trust instead

Illegal conditions on purposes to gifts within your Will (e.g. this product may only be used for the purpose of drugs). Be careful what conditions you include

Joint tenancy property, as the joint tenant automatically gets the property by law anyway

How to make a Will

As we mentioned earlier, when thinking about creating a Will you can either do it yourself, use a Will-writing service, or use a solicitor. At First4Lawyers we aim to make the process as quick and easy as possible, and if you are creating a Will yourself there are certain things you must be aware of so that the Will is legally valid. Whichever you choose, it’s better to be sure that it’s the right option for you.

Doing it yourself

Writing your own Will may be the cheapest option, but it’s also arguably the riskiest. It is possible to buy templates in stationery shops or online, but it’s only really suitable for those with very simple affairs and uncomplicated wishes for their estate. If you choose to write your own Will, it may be best to get legal advice on how to do so. Templates will give you an idea of what to include and do (for instance, witness signatures), but they don’t necessarily help with complicated laws on inheritances and how they are taxed.  A solicitor will be best suited to advise you on this.

Will-writing services

Another option is to use a Will-writing service. While this can be cheaper than using a solicitor, that isn’t always the case, as costs can add up. For example, Will-writing services charge extra for looking after your Will. It also tends to be the case that you pay for what you get, in the sense that you are paying less for a less-qualified service. Will-writing services, unlike solicitors, are not usually legally qualified, nor are they regulated in the same way as solicitors, which may be an issue if things go wrong.

Using a solicitor

You can, of course, use a solicitor to create a Will for you. Although this tends to be the pricier option, you are paying for a legally qualified and regulated firm to create an important document for you. If you have dependants or a complicated estate, or if your estate will have to pay Inheritance Tax, then this may well be your safest option.

Here at First4Lawyers we will make the process as easy as possible for you. We can work in the best way to suit you, and we offer competitive pricing. Get in touch today, or call 0800 567 7866.

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.

All details correct at time of last update. First4Lawyers and their partners are not tax advisors and we recommend you seek appropriate independent financial advice before making any decisions that relate to tax and property.

Last updated:  November 2017