Guides: Wills

Why is it important to make a will?

If you’re a parent…

Writing a will is the best way to have a say over what happens when you die. This is incredibly important if you have children under 18, as it allows you to state who you want to be their legal guardian if anything happens to you. Without a will, the courts could be left to decide who looks after them.

If you’re a homeowner…

Writing a will also allows you to set out how you want to divide up your estate, including any property or accounts you own. You can make an inventory of your assets and choose exactly how much you want people to inherit, helping to prevent any family disputes when you’re gone.

What happens if you die without a will?

On average, it costs families around £9,700 when their loved one dies without a will. This is usually made up of assets they can’t find or don’t know exist. When you make a will with Will Help, you can make an inventory of your assets so your loved ones know exactly where to find everything.

If you die before making a will, any assets that can be found will be divided up following the rules of intestacy. These are a set of traditional laws that define exactly who gets what – but they may not follow exactly what you would want.

Do I need a solicitor to write a will?

Many people assume they need to see a solicitor to write a will. But if your requirements are fairly simple and straightforward, you could end up paying more than you need to.

Our online will writing service allows you to appoint guardians for your children, choose your executors, make an inventory of your assets and set out how you want to divide up your estate. It also gives you the option of leaving gifts, personal messages and funeral wishes for your loved ones. This service costs just £90 with Will Help, but could easily be over £150 if you use a solicitor.

You may need to make a will with a solicitor if you require specific advice on a complex situation – such as high-value business assets or inheritance tax planning. If you’re unsure exactly which option is right for you, book a call or message us here.

What information do I need to write a will?

Appointing legal guardians

If you have children under 18 or are a pet owner, you’ll be able to appoint legal guardians in your will. This allows you to decide who would take care of them if you weren’t around. If you were to die unexpectedly before writing a will, this decision would be left up to the courts.

Though it’s very unlikely that your guardians will ever be called upon, it’s still important to choose the right person (or people) for the job. Grandparents, aunties and uncles, and close friends are often popular choices, but you should discuss this with them first before including them in your will.

Making an inventory of your estate

Millions of people in the UK put off writing their will because they’re worried they’ll need to track down paperwork for all their accounts, property and savings – but this isn’t actually the case.

When you make a will with Will Help, you’ll be asked to create a basic inventory of your estate. For this, you’ll simply make a note of each of your assets – e.g. ‘Santander Current Account’. This is so your executors know where to look when they’re dealing with your estate. You won’t be asked to give details of account numbers or the value of each account, so this part of the process should only take a few minutes.

Choosing your executors

Another thing you’ll want to think about before writing a will is who you want to choose as your executors. These are the people responsible for following the wishes set out in your will.

The first person most people think of is their partner, but this could be an unwelcome burden at a time that’s already so difficult for them. Other common choices for executors are adult children, siblings, close friends and professional executor services.

The most important thing to consider when choosing executors for your will is whether they’re confident dealing with the paperwork and finances involved.

Should I leave funeral wishes in my will?

Our online will writing service lets you include funeral wishes in your will. This step is completely optional, but it can really help to prevent family disputes over your funeral when you’re gone.

You can choose your final resting place, set out what kind of funeral you want, and you can even select songs for the ceremony. And while these wishes aren’t legally binding like other parts of your will, they can really help your family know that they’re making the right decisions when you’re gone.

What happens if you don’t write a will?

When someone dies without writing a will, their estate is shared out following the rules of intestacy. Here, we’ll cover what this means and who can inherit when there isn’t a valid will in place

When someone dies without writing a will, they are known as ‘intestate’. This is also the name given to people who have a poorly written will that doesn’t cover the whole estate, or people who write a will but don’t get it signed by witnesses to make it legally binding. In cases where the person who died didn’t make a will, the rules of intestacy come into play.

What are the rules of intestacy?

The rules of intestacy are a set of laws in England and Wales that define what happens to someone’s estate if they die without a valid will. Below, we’ll cover the most common scenarios to explain what would happen to your estate if you died without a will.

Who inherits if there is no will?

If you’ve recently lost a loved one and there was no will, you probably have questions about who can inherit their estate. To help you out, we’ve explained some of the most common scenarios below.

Married or in a civil partnership with no children

The surviving partner will inherit everything. This is also the case if the person who died had stepchildren, as stepchildren don’t stand to inherit anything under the rules of intestacy.

Married or in a civil partnership and has children

The surviving partner will inherit everything up to the value of £270,000. If the estate is worth more than £270,000, the partner also inherits half of everything over this value. The rest is then shared equally between the deceased’s children.

For example: John was married to Susan and had two children. When he died without a will, his estate was worth £400,000. Susan inherited all his personal possessions and the first £270,000 of the estate, which left £130,000. Susan also inherited 50% of this, giving her a total of £335,000. The remaining £65,000 was then shared equally between the two children, who received £32,500 each.

Note: If one or more of the children has already died, grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit their parent’s share.

Unmarried and has children or grandchildren

The estate is shared equally between the children, not including any step-children. If any of the children has already died, grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit their parent’s share.

For example: Linda was unmarried and had two children, Anne and Michael. When she died without a will, her estate was worth £540,000. Anne inherited £270,000 but, because Michael had already passed away, his £270,000 share was passed down to his only son.

Note: If Michael didn’t have children or grandchildren of his own, his share would also have been inherited by Anne.

Unmarried and has no children

The estate is inherited by the deceased’s close relatives in the following order of priority:

  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Half brothers and half sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Children of aunts and uncles (cousins)

How to deal with an estate when there is no will

If you’ve recently lost a loved one and they didn’t leave a will, you may need to go through probate and apply for a grant of letters of administration. This will give you the legal authority to sell property, close accounts and distribute assets.

In most cases, the person who stands to inherit the most under the rules of intestacy is responsible for dealing with probate. This person is known as the administrator.

What is an executor of a will?

An executor of a will is somebody you nominate to carry out the wishes left in your will. They could be a friend, family member or a professional – the most important thing is that they feel comfortable and confident administering your estate.

What do my executors have to do when I die?

The first thing your executors need to do is find your will, so it’s important you tell them where it’s kept after you’ve printed and signed it alongside two witnesses. If it’s needed, they’ll then be responsible for applying for probate so they can follow the wishes you set out in your will.

Your executors are also responsible for dealing with your estate. This may include closing your bank accounts, paying off any debts, and selling or transferring property so they can share everything out between your beneficiaries. Alternatively, your executors may choose a professional to handle the estate administration on their behalf.

If you’re dealing with a bereavement and need help with probate, you can find out about our fixed-price probate service here.

What powers do the executors of my will have?

Executors are given some powers under the laws of England and Wales, but it is common for solicitors and will writing professionals to include additional provisions in wills they provide.

When you write a will using our online will writing service, it will include a set of general provisions. These have been professionally drafted and approved by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), a global professional association that promotes high professional standards in this area of law.

How many executors do I need to appoint when I write a will?

You need to appoint at least one executor of your will – but you can choose up to four people or professionals. If you’re choosing friends and family, it’s recommended that you appoint at least two executors. This is because there are certain limitations for sole executors that don’t apply to professionals.

Can an executor also be a beneficiary of my estate?

Yes, any of your beneficiaries can also act as your executor, as long as they’re over 18 years old. This can be useful if you’re sharing your estate between your children and want to make your oldest child an executor.

3 things to think about before choosing executors of your will

  1. The amount of work involved

The first thing to think about when choosing your executors is the amount of work involved. If your estate is relatively small and doesn’t require the sale of any property, a financially-savvy friend or family member may be comfortable acting as an executor. But if the situation is more complex and requires the sale and distribution of property, you may be better off choosing a professional executor service.

  1. How they’ll feel after your death

Another thing to consider is whether the people you choose will appreciate having to deal with your estate. Between dealing with grief and planning your funeral, being an executor of a will can feel like an unwelcome burden to some people, so it’s important to bear this in mind when appointing executors in your will.

  1. How much it will cost

If you choose to appoint a professional executor service, there will be a fee involved for them to deal with your estate. Traditionally, this is either worked out as an hourly rate or on a percentage basis – sometimes even a combination of the two. So if your estate is worth £500,000 at the time of your death, this could end up costing £20,000.

We understand that people like knowing exactly what things are going to cost upfront, so we created a more transparent executor service called Will Help Trustees. Rather than working on a percentage or hourly rate basis, we charge between £1,000 and £2,750 depending on the complexity of your estate. This is always quoted upfront, so you know exactly how much this will cost in advance.

What happens after you’ve written a will?

Our online will writing service makes it quick and easy to write a will from the comfort of your own home.We created this service to make writing a will quick, simple, accessible and fairly priced. And one of the key parts of this is allowing people to sign up and draft their will before paying a penny.

At home or at work, on your phone, tablet or computer, you can sign up in seconds and start writing a will for free. And because our solicitor-approved guide breaks everything down into a few simple steps, most people finish writing a will with us in around 10 minutes.

Then, if you’re happy with your will, you have options to get it checked, securely stored and write an optional letter with the will.

Getting your will checked by an expert

After you’ve written a will and paid for it, you have the option to have it checked carefully by a qualified solicitor. This is to make sure your wishes are clear and easy to understand and help minimise the chance of your will being contested after you die.

Around two-thirds of our wills pass the first time but, if we feel that something can be clarified, we’ll send you a recommendation.They can really help to make sure your wishes are understood and followed in the future. Once you’ve considered our recommendations and made any changes you want to make, we’ll check your will again to give it the final seal of approval, then we’ll send you a link to download your will.

Storing your will safely

After printing and signing your will, you need to keep it somewhere safe. It’s also important that you tell your executors where it is so they can easily find it when you’re gone.

Most people choose to keep their will alongside other important documents, To ensure your will and important documents are kept safe we have partnered with Endless Vault to provide an online secured storage service.

The most important thing is that your will is well-marked and easy to find. So if you do choose to keep it locked in a safe or filing cabinet, make sure it can be accessed by your executors. This is why you should never store your will in a safety deposit box at the bank. Your executors will need probate to access it, but they can’t get probate unless they have the will. With Endless Vault you can select which documents can be accessed by your executors and which ones are kept secure and hidden. 

Should I write a letter to keep with my will?

When creating your will with Will Help, you can leave personal messages alongside gifts of specific or money. You can explain what you’re leaving, why you’re leaving it and what you want the recipient to do with it. Often, these messages are just as important as the gifts themselves.

But, sometimes, it’s the bigger picture that’s important for others to understand. Particularly if you’ve had to balance responsibilities you might have, or obligations you feel you should fulfil, to different people.

By making a will you’re taking the most important step to ensuring your wishes are followed. But if you think anyone might be disappointed by your choices, you may also want to write a letter to keep with your will. This should say, in your own words, why you think this will is the best thing to do by the people and/or causes that are important to you.

Here are some tips on writing a letter to keep with your will:

  • It’s usually best to address it to your executors, as they’ll be the people responsible for carrying out your wishes.
  • It should sound like you, so it’s important that the letter is in your words.
  • Finally, it should be signed and dated by you. Do not get this signed and witnessed, otherwise it might get confused for your actual, witnessed, will.

How to update/amend your will?

Over 30 million adults in the UK are putting off writing a will. And one of the main reasons for this is that they’re worried they’ll have to pay to make a new will or a codicil in the future. So rather than writing a will that protects their family today, they end up putting it off for years.

At Will Help, we understand that life can change in a matter of seconds. That’s why we make it easy to update your will anytime in the future. By logging back into your account, you can use our online will writing service to update your will from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

When should you update your will?

It’s recommended that you update your will every two years. This is to make sure that any changes in your circumstances are reflected in your will. This includes things like:

  • You have a new child
  • You get engaged, married or divorced
  • You move house
  • You buy or sell any property
  • You inherit money or property
  • One of your executors, beneficiaries or guardians dies
  • You want to change who is inheriting your estate
  • You want to add a specific gift or message to someone you love
  • Inheritance tax legislation or the law governing wills changes

How much does it cost to update a will?

If you write a will with Will Help, you’ll automatically be signed up to our update service. This is free for the first year and just £10 a year after that. You can cancel the update service anytime and we’ll send you a reminder 30 days before each payment so you have plenty of time to decide.

With our update service, you’ll be able to update your will an unlimited number of times. You can also take advantage of our free chat and phone support between 9am and 7pm, 7 days a week. So if you have any questions about updating your will, you can speak to an expert from the comfort of your own home.

If you’ve already written a will with a solicitor or traditional will writer, you’ll likely need to get a codicil to update your will. This is a separate document that can cost anywhere between £30 and £100. However, if you want to make a lot of changes to your will or think you may need to update it again in the future, you may be better off writing a new will.

I already have a will. Can I update it with Wil Help?

If you already have a will from a solicitor or another provider, there’s a high chance that they’ll ask you to pay if you want to change or update it. In some cases, this could end up costing over £150 – and you still won’t have an easy way to update it in the future.

If your old will is out of date, you could make a new will for just £90 by using our online will writing service. This would then allow you to update your will anytime in the future for just £10 a year – free for the first year. And remember: once you’ve printed and signed your new will alongside two witnesses, it’s important that you dispose of your old will to avoid confusion for your executors.

Who can witness and sign a will?

A will can be witnessed and signed by anyone over the age of 18 – such as a neighbour, friend or colleague. The only rules are that they can’t be a beneficiary of your will, married to a beneficiary, or blind.

Why does a will need to be witnessed?

After writing a will, you need to sign it alongside two witnesses to make it legally binding. First, you should sign your will with both witnesses watching, then each witness should add their signature alongside details like their name, address and occupation. This is so that, if your will is contested in the future, your witnesses can testify that they watched you sign your will.

Another reason your will needs to be witnessed is to demonstrate testamentary capacity…

What is testamentary capacity?

Testamentary capacity is the legal term used to describe a person’s legal and mental ability to make or alter a will. In general, if someone can do all four of the following things, the law determines that they have testamentary capacity:

  • Understand the extent and value of their property
  • Understand they’re making a will and deciding who will inherit their property
  • Understand who the people are that are closest to them (the people that might expect to be left something in the will)
  • Not be suffering from a delusion which makes them act differently from normal

If you think any of these points could be in doubt, we recommend that you ask a medical practitioner to act as one of your witnesses. This can help to prove that you have capacity to sign your will. There are a few other reasons why you may need a medical practitioner to witness your will, which will be covered later in this article.

Who can witness a will?

A will can be witnessed and signed by anyone over 18, as long as they don’t stand to benefit from it.

Here are a few of the simplest options:

  • Neighbours: If you choose to print your will at home or get it sent to you in the post, your neighbours will probably be the easiest option.
  • Colleagues: If you print your will at work or get it sent to the office, you could get a couple of colleagues to witness and sign it.
  • Friends: Another good option is to get a couple of friends to witness and sign your will, as long as you haven’t chosen to leave them any gifts or part of your estate.
  • Relatives: It’s common for people to leave part of their estate to their partner, children and grandchildren, but you could get other relatives – like siblings or cousins – to witness your will.

How many witnesses do you need to sign a will?

You need two people to witness and sign your will, and they both need to be present at the same time to watch you sign it. This is so that, if anyone tries to contest your will in future, they can say they saw you sign it and therefore approved of its contents.

Who can’t witness a will?

Your will can’t be witnessed by anyone who stands to benefit from it. This includes:

Anyone you’ve left a gift or part of your estate to – otherwise known as beneficiaries. This means that, if you’ve chosen to leave your estate to your partner and children, they can’t witness your will.

The spouse or civil partner of any beneficiaries. So, if you’ve chosen to leave part of your estate to your daughter, your daughter’s husband can’t witness your will.

It’s also important to note that your will can’t be witnessed and signed by someone who is blind, as they need to be able to see you sign your will.

Can an executor witness a will?

Yes, an executor can witness a will, as long as they aren’t a beneficiary (or the spouse or civil partner of a beneficiary). It’s also important that you tell your executor where your will is stored after it’s been witnessed and signed, so you could show them in person if they’re also one of your witnesses.

Can a beneficiary witness a will?

A beneficiary can’t witness a will – and the same goes for the spouse or civil partner of any beneficiaries.

If you did get your will witnessed by a beneficiary (or their husband, wife or civil partner) any gifts, money and property that you’ve left to them in your will would be void.

Why you might need a medical practitioner to witness your will

The law in England and Wales recommends that anyone who is elderly or seriously ill should ask a medical practitioner, such as a GP, to act as a witness to their will. This is particularly important if you are mentally ill or have a terminal illness, as you need to be able to demonstrate testamentary capacity when writing a will.

If you feel like this might apply to you, you could ask your GP or specialist to witness your will. But remember, you’ll still need a second person to witness your will, and they both need to watch you sign it at the same time.

What do witnesses need to do?

After writing a will, printing it out at home and binding the pages together, there are a couple of steps you and your witnesses need to take to make it legally valid:

Your chosen witnesses need to be together with you when you sign your will. This is so that, if your will is contested after you die, they can testify that they watched you sign your will.

Your witnesses need to add their details to your will alongside their signature. This is so they can easily be contacted if your will is contested in the future.

If you’re writing a will using our online will writing service, you’ll find clear guidance on what to do next after downloading and printing your will.