It can feel like a mammoth task, so in this beginner's guide we aim to answer your most frequently asked questions and concerns about creating a will.
Preparing for a future where you’re no longer around is difficult in itself, but is often made even harder by the thought of all those looming administrative tasks that have to be done. Writing your will is arguably the biggest, most daunting task of them all. We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to answer the most frequent questions surrounding wills - to give you clarity and ease any worries about the process of creating one.
We conducted research to find out the Top 10 most frequently searched questions regarding wills, by members of the public. From marriage and cost, to trusts and storage – The answers to these questions will give you an overview of how it all works. So, let’s get started!
When choosing who should help you with writing your will, there are several things you should consider. It’s extremely important that your will is written properly and follows the right guidelines, otherwise it could be invalid upon your death.
Questions to ask yourself about potential providers include:
Instead of traditional solicitors and will writers, there are alternative routes such as writing it yourself or using an online will writing service. As we will discuss later, writing a will yourself incurs more risks and a non-trustworthy solicitor may actually encourage this, as they could potentially profit from the issues arising from an incorrect will. This is why it’s essential to do your research into your local providers before committing to one, to ensure they are reputable and that people can testify for them.
The cost of writing a will varies depending on how complex your needs and estate are.
As mentioned previously, if you choose the DIY route for your will you could be spending as little as £30 for a basic online or physical will template. But you have to consider whether the money you save by doing this is worth the potential risk of your will not being legally admissible.
We would always recommend using a professional to help you prepare your will. In using a solicitor, bank or will writer you could expect to pay anywhere in the range of £80 to £750 depending on the complexity of your financial affairs. For example, if you want to include a trust in your will, you can expect to pay upwards of £400.
However, if both you and your partner are looking to write a will at the same time, you can find huge discounts by creating what’s known as ‘mirror wills’.
The original copy of your will is the only legally binding version, which means that any scans or digital copies are not valid because your signature on them is not the original. As you can imagine this means that your original will must be kept somewhere secure, but also should be easily accessible when it’s needed.
It is never recommended that you keep your original will at home. If it was damaged in an incident in your home (such as a fire, flood or burglary), it would be seen as invalid by the courts.
So, where can you store your will?
Well, your solicitor or will writer will generally have the facilities available for you to store your will with them in their offices. This is generally the most used option, as it’s convenient and most likely local to you.
Or, should you prefer, you could use a dedicated will storage facility such as the National Will Archive, which safely stores over 100,000 legal documents and is backed by the Society of National Will Writers. They also offer a registration service where you can disclose the location of your will, and it can then be easily searched by executors in the future.
In theory, yes. It’s entirely possible for a hand-drafted will to be legal in England and Wales, so long as it is properly written and meets all requirements. But there may be big risks in doing so.
DIY wills are often drafted incorrectly, containing mistakes or lacking certain requirements. This makes them ineffective after your death, a problem which could be easily avoided with the help of a professional.
Known as a ‘holograph will’, a handwritten will must act in accordance with the 1837 Wills act, and must be:
"Signed by the testator (the person making the Will) with the intention of it giving effect to their Will in the presence of two witnesses, who each sign the Will in the presence of the testator."
If your will is not signed and witnessed correctly, it won't have been executed correctly and it won't be legally valid. During Covid-19, there was a change in the law that means it is now possible to have a will witnessed online via video call, however it is advised that this is used as a last resort and is due to end in January 2024.
Additionally, a handwritten will poses the challenge of ambiguous intentions. It is difficult to know whether a handwritten piece of paper is someone’s ‘intended’ will, or just some thoughts they have written. A handwritten will can only be used if there is a deliberate written statement of intention about how an estate will be divided. The person writing their own will also needs to have ‘testamentary capacity’, have a good mental state and be fully aware of what they’re doing and the consequences of it. This can easily be dismissed with a handwritten will, or more easily challenged in court.
It may be easier to discuss who CAN’T witness a will, because technically anybody over the age of 18 is legally allowed to be witness but there are exceptions for different contexts.
Firstly, any beneficiaries of the will cannot be a witness. This is usually children, spouses and close family members but extends to anybody who will receive something from your estate after your death. It’s also not advised to let ANY family member witness your will, because they could have a legitimate claim to any residual benefits from your estate in the future, and we want to avoid any potential legal dilemmas.
Your witness also cannot be partially sighted, because they need to be able to see pen being put to paper in order to be a legitimate witness. They also need to have the capacity to fully understand the contents of the will.
So, traditionally people ask friends or colleagues to sign. They must both be physically present when witnessing unless it is carried out online as a last resort. There are some differences across the UK regarding how many witnesses you need. In Scotland, you only need one witness or more. In England and Wales, you need to have two independent witnesses.
Your marital status impacts whether or not you should think about writing a will soon. Here’s what each relationship type means for your will:
If you are not married and do not have a long-term partner, you should still consider writing a will particularly if your net worth is positive. This will help you figure out who will get your property (ie .home, pets, assets), who may look after your children if you have any, and to name an executor of your estate.
If you are single and don’t have children but your net worth exceeds £100k, then you should definitely put your wishes into writing so there’s no confusion about where this money will go. Perhaps a living trust which would be effective from the moment it’s signed.
If you are unmarried, single and haven’t accumulated a positive net worth yet, then you probably don’t need to worry about writing your will just yet unless you have dependents such as children or pets.
This is probably where it is most crucial to have a will in place. Even if you have been with your partner for years, have children together and are in what’s known as a ‘common law marriage’, without a will they would have absolutely no entitlement to any inheritance from you after your death. This is because a relationship that is not sealed by marriage is not recognised by law in the UK and your partner will have very few rights regarding your estate. This includes things that you personally owned but shared together, such as a house.
If you have children together, any inheritance from your partner’s death will go to them. You would receive nothing unless it was jointly owned or stated in a will. If your partner has children of their own, perhaps from a previous relationship, it would be up to those children to decide what inheritance you receive, if any.
Even in marriage, it’s best to have a will prepared, and as mentioned earlier you can receive a huge discount when you and your spouse write a will together.
When you die without a will, the rules of intestacy come into play which means your spouse will receive everything if you have no children. If you do have children, whether together or from previous relationships, then these rules mean that your spouse will get all of your personal possessions plus the first £250,000 of your estate and one-half of anything that is left over. Your children will receive the other half of what is left. If you both have children from other relationships, then upon your death the remaining balance will go to your children only.
Writing a will as a married couple means that you can be in control of exactly how your money, home and possessions are distributed, to keep your family’s best interests at heart.
As a general rule, a will can’t expire. However, there is a chance it could be revoked for several reasons. Making updates to a will would revoke the original and render it ineffective, and it must then be physically destroyed by the person who wrote it. Other reasons a will might be revoked is: incorrect construction, failure to have a witness sign, lacking testamentary capacity, improper influence or fraudulent activity or multiple wills.
If your will cannot be found after your death, it will be assumed that it was intentionally destroyed. So make sure you keep it in a safe place!
A codicil allows someone to make changes to an existing will without having to completely rewrite the original. With a codicil, you can write out minor changes to the details in your current will, such as adding a new gift or removing one. A codicil would also let you change your executor, but it is not for larger changes such as who is a beneficiary. You could also use a codicil in circumstances such as divorce or a change in assets or family circumstances. Any more significant changes and it is recommended that you write a new will.
A codicil doesn’t replace your existing will, and can only work alongside it and in reference to it so you must ensure they are kept together. It needs to be witnessed and signed as a will does.
A life interest trust is the way that many people choose to provide for their surviving spouse. It is also known as a ‘discretionary trust’. They often give spouses the rights to utilise assets and receive any income that comes from them without giving them ownership of an asset. For example, a farmer may want their spouse to remain living and working with the farm but then want their children to inherit the land eventually. A life interest trust allows their desired succession to take place, but also prevents their spouse from having to sell the property.
You could place all of the deceased person’s assets in a trust, and then power is given to trustees to provide for the surviving spouse if they wish.
You could provide your beneficiaries with a copy of your will, or a financial advisor. However, be aware that if you choose to change any legal documents regarding your will in the future and there happens to be a will dispute, sharing your will means that there is now an outdated copy of it in the public sphere. Any disinherited (and probably angry!) parties could use this old evidence against you and your estate.
Auderli lets you share a read-only copy of your will securely and simply, and you can remove access at any time with the touch of a button.
Even if you decide not to share your will, you can still upload it and any supporting documents to your Auderli portfolio for safekeeping and easy access when you need to review it. Just remember to delete any old versions of your will if it gets updated. Our security measures ensure that nobody (not even us!) can have access to your personal documents and information. In any format.
To read more about how our security works, head here.
Once you’ve got your will written, there are other elements to consider such as power of attorney. This is separate from your will but gives you and your family more control over managing your estate should you become incapacitated and unable to do so. You can learn more about what estate planning is and how to start on our blog here.
Hopefully, this blog has given you all the information you need to start thinking about writing your will. It is an essential part of preparing for your financial future and ensuring the peace of mind of your loved ones when you’re no longer around. It can feel like a daunting task, and is one that all of us are guilty of putting off into the distant future. But, with the right professional guidance and research, writing your will can be a breeze and gives you control over your hard-earned assets.
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