Writing a will: how to make sure you get it right

If you die without a will, you bequeath your relatives a big headache. Here's how to make sure that doesn't happen.

The pandemic has sparked a boom in will writing. There was a 267% rise in people making online and telephone wills with will writer Farewill last year. Yet 49% of Britons still don’t have a will, says Co-op Legal Services. A survey by the Co-op reveals widespread confusion about what happens to assets if a person dies without a will (known as dying “intestate”). This is especially important for cohabiting couples that are not married (or in a civil partnership). Under the rules of intestacy, an unmarried partner gets nothing when you die; increasingly common “blended families” also complicate planning. 

Those who die without a will bequeath their relatives a headache, says James Coney in The Sunday Times. Unclear wishes can lead to “acrimony”. Consider other measures to ease the burden on grieving relatives: “Write down all your online accounts and passwords in a little book and hide it away.” Clear funeral instructions are also a great help. 

To make a legally valid will in England and Wales, you must sign it in the presence of two witnesses, who then also sign. The witnesses and their married partners cannot be beneficiaries of the will. Review your will every five years or after major life changes such as a separation or moving house. To amend a will you can either add a codicil (also with two witnesses) or, for bigger changes, make a new one (you must physically destroy the old will).  

The main mistakes people make when writing a will

Common mistakes when writing a will include failing to make it legally valid, forgetting to account for everything in an estate and not factoring in the effect of marital changes or the potential death of a beneficiary, says citizensadvice.org.uk. While it is possible to make a will yourself, using a solicitor will give you peace of mind that it has been drafted properly. Establish which assets and possessions you have, and who the beneficiaries and executors will be before getting legal help. This will cut costs. 

In England and Wales the witnessing can happen via videoconferencing, but this is a faff and “not without risks”, says Tom Wilson of Which. Have “the will witnessed the conventional way wherever possible”. Simple wills cost between £80 and a few hundred pounds. You can get a discount on a second “mirror will” for your partner if you both have the same wishes. More specialist wills, such as those that include trusts, cost at least £500 to £600. 

Can you forego the solicitor? More than 150,000 people have used one of the numerous online will writing services over the past year, but beware, says James Daley in The Daily Telegraph. The market is unregulated, and most offer “no consumer protections if things go wrong”. “Overconfidence” leaves some unaware that situations such as being divorced, having children with more than one partner or cohabiting mean more complex drafting is typically required.  

Before drafting the will, talk to your family so that you have an opportunity to make your wishes clear and plan together for the future, says moneyhelper.org.uk. Emphasise that the will is “for now” and can be amended in the future if circumstances change. Make clear that the will is not about “who deserves what”, but about achieving objectives such as providing for a partner or for the education of grandchildren. Your decisions may be partly based on whom you like or dislike – “but saying so won’t do you any favours”. 

Recommended

Amazon halts plans to ban UK Visa credit card payments
Personal finance

Amazon halts plans to ban UK Visa credit card payments

Amazon has said that it is to shelve its proposed ban on UK customers making payments with Visa credit cards.
17 Jan 2022
Unilever slides and GSK bounces after GSK knocks back £50bn bid
UK stockmarkets

Unilever slides and GSK bounces after GSK knocks back £50bn bid

Unilever shares fell to their lowest level in around five years, after its £50bn takeover bid for GSK’s consumer health unit was rejected. 
17 Jan 2022
Cladding crisis: what new proposals for mean for housebuilders and leaseholders
Property

Cladding crisis: what new proposals for mean for housebuilders and leaseholders

The government has said that no leaseholder living in a block of flats more than 11 metres tall should “ever face any costs” for fixing dangerous clad…
17 Jan 2022
Ask for a pay rise – everyone else is
Inflation

Ask for a pay rise – everyone else is

As inflation bites and the labour market remains tight, many of the nation's employees are asking for a pay rise. Merryn Somerset Webb explains why yo…
17 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Five unexpected events that could shock the markets in 2022
Stockmarkets

Five unexpected events that could shock the markets in 2022

Forget Covid-19 – it’s the unexpected twists that will rattle markets in 2022, says Matthew Lynn. Here are five possibilities
31 Dec 2021
Which investment trusts performed the best in 2021?
Investment trusts

Which investment trusts performed the best in 2021?

Shivani Khandekar runs through the top ten investment trusts of 2021 – and the worst performing trusts – and looks ahead to 2022.
7 Jan 2022
Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?
Global Economy

Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?

The idea that the US Federal Reserve could raise interest rates much earlier than anticipated has upset the markets. John Stepek explains why, and wha…
6 Jan 2022