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A Mini Guide to Writing a Will
First things first, what exactly is a will? A will is a legal document which states how a deceased person’s estate should be disposed of when they die. Disposing of the estate is not getting rid of it, but rather the act of giving it to others to benefit from or manage.
A person who makes a will or dies having left a valid will is known as a testator; someone who dies with no valid will is said to have died intestate. Dying intestate can be a complicated affair with lots of ramifications for your loved ones.
Here’s a mini guide to writing a will to help you understand what’s involved.
Why Should You Write a Will?
Writing a will gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be honoured after you’ve gone and that your family won’t have to make difficult decisions on top of their grief. Ensuring you have a valid will is the only way to make sure your estate, i.e., your money, property, possessions, and investments go to the right people and causes that you care about. And, if you aren't married or in a civil partnership, your partner won't have a right to inherit if you don't have a will.
You can find more information here on the biggest reasons why you should write a will.
How to Write a Will in 6 Simple Steps
1. Value your estate
The first step is to value your estate by working out exactly how much you own and how much you owe. Your assets might include any properties you own, financial savings, premium bonds, insurance policies, pension, investments and possessions like vehicles, jewellery or furniture. Your debts will be your mortgage, any credit card balances, bank overdrafts, loans or equity releases.
2. Decide what you want to happen to your estate
Choose who you would like to benefit from your estate and what you would like to give to each person. You’ll need to consider what should happen if any of the beneficiaries die before you and what you want to happen to any residual property or money that is left over after funeral expenses, legacies and taxes. You may even wish to leave some money to charity.
3. Choose your executors
The executors of your will are responsible for the distribution of the estate after you’ve died. This could be your spouse, family member, or a professional. In fact, anyone over the age of 18 can be an executer of your will. However, it’s an important role so make sure you pick the people who will be able to manage it effectively.
4. Write your will
While it is possible to write your own will, you can employ others to help you to write your will to ensure it is legally valid. This could be a solicitor or chartered legal executive. Many specialise in wills and probate. You could turn to a professional will writer, but make sure they are registered with the Institute of Professional Will Writers, or you may want to consider a bank or even some charities that can provide a will-drafting service to encourage will-making and charitable legacies. The cost of writing your will can vary dependent on which option you choose, and how complex your affairs are.
5. Sign your will in the presence of witnesses
You need to sign your will in the presence of two independent witnesses, preferably different to your executors, who will also then sign it. All three people should be in the room together, and beneficiaries of the will are not allowed to be witnesses as they would lose their claim to any inheritance.
6. Keep your will stored safely
There isn’t a specific place outlined by the law for keeping your will. If you use a will writing service then they can store it for you, however this may cost extra. A solicitor will usually store the original copy free of charge. You can keep your will at home, but ideally, it should be stored with a solicitor, bank or with your local Probate Service. Your executors should know where your will is kept.
How to Ensure a Will is Valid
A valid will should be in writing, signed by you and witnessed by two people. You need to be mentally capable and must make the will voluntarily. Any will you make should state that it revokes all others, so if you have an earlier version of the will, make sure you destroy it.
If you marry, remarry or enter a civil partnership, this cancels a previously existing will and divorce doesn’t automatically invalidate a will made during the marriage, but it does exclude your ex-spouse or civil partner from benefits if they are mentioned in the will. If you re-marry, separate or divorce, make sure you write a new will.
How to Amend a Will
It’s a very good idea to amend a will every five years or after a significant change such as when you divorce, purchase a new property or a new grandchild arrives. Small changes or supplements are known as codicils but must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the original will, although the witnesses can be different people. For big changes, you may need to write a new will.
If you don’t have a will in place then your estate will be shared out the standard way, defined by the law. If this is the case, then your possessions may not be passed on in the way that you would want.
Writing a will is an important step in giving yourself and your family comfort that your decisions will be respected once you’re gone. Whether you choose to write your own will or hire a professional, it’s essential that you execute your will in a way that’s best for you and your loved ones. Following the steps outlined above will ensure that your assets are properly taken care off.
About the Author
Dakota Murphey is a writer based in Brighton, specialising in new business startups and the interpersonal relationships that exist both between employees and clients.
Having written for numerous online and print authorities, Dakota has been published on a wide range of business topics, utilising psychology in the workplace - and how to build long-lasting relationships in all aspects of the working and personal life.