Why you should write a will – and how to do it for free

Most of us haven’t written a will. But it’s crucial that you leave your financial affairs in order when you die.

Couple looking at a computer screen and documents
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You might carefully hand out money in line with the inheritance tax gifting rules and fret about whether or not you should set up a trust to protect your wealth. 

But have you taken one of the simplest steps to avoid an inheritance tax bill? A will is a powerful weapon against the taxman and yet the majority of us have never bothered to write one.

If you die without a will, your estate is subject to the laws of intestacy. If you're married this means jointly-held assets pass to your spouse, but the rest of your estate is divided up between your spouse and your children. Your spouse gets the first £250,000 plus half of the remainder, with the rest split between your children. The problem with this is that if everything goes to your spouse there is no inheritance tax due, but if the amount passed to your children exceeds £325,000 then they will face a tax bill. Write a will and you avoid this problem.

Another reason to have a will is to ensure your money goes to people you love. Without one, your money could pass to an ex-partner you haven't divorced yet, or a distant aunt rather than your long-term partner. Unmarried partners are not included in the laws of intestacy – note: the concept of a common-law marriage does not exist in the UK – so your partner would receive absolutely nothing by law, unless you've written a will.

There is no excuse for not having a will. It doesn't need to be a complicated process and these days it is not expensive. 

How to take advantage of Free Wills Month

Free Wills Month happens every October and March, allowing those aged 55 and over to get a will created (or updated) by a solicitor for free.

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Hundreds of law firms across the UK take part, although different areas participate in different months. The areas included this October are Wales, Northern Ireland, Birmingham, Cornwall, Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Oxfordshire. 

To take part, you must book a slot by 31 October (though the appointment can take place beyond October). Enter your postcode on the Free Wills Month website to find a nearby participating solicitor who has availability.

The appointment is free and could save you several hundreds of pounds in legal fees. The initiative is run by multiple charities including Age UK and British Heart Foundation - it is hoped you'll leave something in your will to charity in return.

If you miss Free Wills Month, or you're too young to participate, don't worry because Will Aid runs annually in November and is open to everyone aged 18 and over.

In a UK-wide campaign involving nine charities, hundreds of solicitors offer to write basic wills for any adult. They waive their usual fee, and instead ask for a donation to Will Aid – the charity will-writing scheme. The suggested donations are £100 for a single will or £180 for a pair of basic "mirror wills." The donations are distributed among the charities. 

Unsurprisingly, free wills are popular so if you're interested in either scheme you need to act fast to ensure you get a slot.

Don't forget to update your will

Once you have written your will don't forget to keep it up-to-date. Marriage invalidates any previous wills, but divorce doesn't. 

Also, make sure your will is stored somewhere safe where it can easily be found when you die.

Writing a will – cheap and easy options 

  • Do it yourself: You can pick up a do-it-yourself will-writing kit on the high street for around £20. But this is only suitable for people with very simple financial affairs and it is easy to make mistakes that could render it invalid.
  • Fixed-fee services: A better option may be a fixed-fee will-writing service. Prices at Which? and Co-op Legal Services start from £150. If you have a premium bank account, check if a will-writing service is included. You could also be entitled to a free will through your home or car insurance policy if you chose to include legal cover.
  • Online services: You could also use an online service such as Farewill.com. You answer questions online to create your will. It is then checked by a specialist before you are sent a link to download, print and sign. You'll pay £100 for a single will or £160 for a joint will. An added benefit is you can pay a £10 annual subscription that allows you to update your will whenever you like.

This article was first published in MoneyWeek's magazine. Enjoy exclusive early access to news, opinion and analysis from our team of financial experts with a MoneyWeek subscription.

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.


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