Five things not to put in a will

There's a lot to consider when writing a will. But what about things NOT to put in a will? We spoke to legal experts who told us what you should leave out.

Woman filling out documents, will, financial statements
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Writing a will might seem like a daunting process, but it’s a necessary step to take to make sure you are leaving your affairs in order while reducing your inheritance tax bill.

While writing a will can be a difficult process, clearly outlining the way you want your estate to be handled can help your family members and ensure that your assets are distributed accordingly. There is a lot to think about when considering what to include, but you should also know there are things that are best left out. 

It’s always useful to seek legal advice when writing a will. If you’re over 55 you can also take advantage of Free Wills Month, which happens every March and October, to have a will created or updated for free. 

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These are the top things to keep in mind when deciding what to leave out of your will.

1. Anything particularly sensitive

“You don’t want anything there that you don’t want the general public to read or see,” says Kieran Bowe, partner at law firm Russell Cooke. After probate, the document “will be available not only to family members or friends but the wider general public”.

“If you want to disinherit people, it’s best to leave the will silent and have a separate letter of wishes, or a statement that accompanies the will, that can be there to guide executors or other people necessary thereafter,” says Bowe. 

“Clauses that may cause upset or hurt – if there are family difficulties or difficult relationships, keep that outside of the will and deal with it separately by way of a letter of wishes. That way you’re not airing your dirty linen in public,” he adds.

2. Information about personal items

There’s no real need to list personal items or effects in your will and “It’s not a good idea, just from a general security perspective,” says Bowe. These items can be listed under a general clause and then detailed more specifically in a letter of wishes, which won’t be made public. 

In that same vein, leaving details of specific bank accounts may not be a good idea as the amounts in these could change after you’ve made your will. 

3. Pension plans or insurance policies

Insurance policies and pension plans require the holder to name a beneficiary when they are taken out, so that person will automatically receive the assets once you die. Therefore there is no need to mention them in your will. If you wish to change the beneficiary it's better to contact the relevant pension/insurance company and make the change to your policy.

4.  Funeral arrangements 

You don’t have to include your funeral arrangements in your will. “It’s not necessary for the purpose of the estate administration, that can be in a letter of wishes or a side letter, or instructions to executors,” says Bowe. 

“Whilst you can give limited instructions regarding the expression of cremation or burial, generally anything more detailed you want to keep outside of the will,” he adds.

5. Joint assets

Joint assets are subject to rules of survivorship, and will automatically pass on to the person you own them with. So joint bank accounts will pass to the surviving owner, regardless of what you’ve stated in your will. 

If you own a property with someone else as a joint tenant, the property will pass on to the surviving co-owner. 

The exception is if you own it as tenants-in-common: then your share of the property will pass on according to the terms of your will. 

“That’s probably somewhere where you do want to state specifically what happens in that scenario so that there’s no argument as to what the intentions were of the decisions of how that property should pass once the deceased is gone,” says Bowe. 

Who shouldn't you name as a beneficiary?

Pets: You cannot leave money to your pet. Pets are classed as property and so cannot inherit money. If you wish to do this, you can leave money to a charity or to a person who will look after your pet – since animals are considered property, you can leave your pet to someone in your will. 

Someone on benefits: If you name someone on benefits as a beneficiary, this could impact the money they are receiving from the government. Setting up a trust may be a better option.

Minors: Minors aren’t able to manage assets until they turn 18 – this might also be a situation in which you’re better off setting up a trust. 

Trusts can also afford you privacy. The tax implications can sometimes be different and you should seek legal advice. You would also still need to create powers within the trust itself so that trustees have the power to appoint beneficiaries, says Bowe. 

What could invalidate your will?

There are some circumstances which could mean your will could be invalid: 

  • If you weren’t of sound mind when you wrote it 
  • If you were pressured by a third party to write it 
  • If you did not have two independent witnesses 
  • If you named a beneficiary who also acted as a witness 
  • If you moved to a different country and made a separate will there

You should also keep in mind that in England and Wales, any wills made prior to marriage become void unless you reference your intended marriage. 

You will need to write a new will after you get married. If you don’t the law will decide who inherits your estate once you pass. Your spouse will inherit everything if your estate is worth under £270,000 and children from previous marriages could receive nothing at all. 

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 or Make A Will Online. 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. With these online services, you could pay anywhere from £60-100 for a single will to £90-160 for a joint will. An added benefit of online services is you can easily update your will whenever you like, sometimes for a small additional fee.
  • Take part in Free Wills Month: Free Wills Month happens every March and October. It's a campaign that allows people aged 55 and over to get a will created, or updated, by a solicitor for free. Find full details on the Free Wills Month website. A similar UK-wide initiative is Will Aid, which runs every November and is open to adults, aged 18 and over.

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Nicole García Mérida

Nic studied for a BA in journalism at Cardiff University, and has an MA in magazine journalism from City University. She joined MoneyWeek in 2019.