Making a will
By making a will you can decide what happens to your property and possessions after your death. Although you do not have to make one by law, it is the best way to make sure your estate is passed on to family and friends exactly as you wish. If you die without a will, your assets may be distributed according to the law rather than your wishes.
Why it's important to make a will
A will sets out who is to benefit from your property and possessions (your estate) after your death. There are many good reasons to make a will:
- you can decide how your assets are shared - if you don't have a will, the law says who gets what
- if you're an unmarried couple (whether or not it's a same-sex relationship), you can make sure your partner is provided for
- if you're divorced, you can decide whether to leave anything to your former partner
- you can make sure you don't pay more Inheritance Tax than necessary
- Financial reasons to make a will (money, tax and benefits section)
Preparing your will
Although it is possible to write a will by yourself, it is advisable to use a solicitor as there are various legal formalities you need to follow to make sure that your will is valid. You may also need legal advice for more complicated matters. A solicitor can also advise you about how Inheritance Tax affects you.
A solicitor may be able to visit you in your own home, care home or hospital.
The cost of writing a will can vary between solicitors and will depend on how complicated your affairs may be and the experience of the solicitor.
As well as solicitors, voluntary organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau and Age Concern can also help with your will. If you live in Scotland, the group Help the Aged can help with preparing a will.
What should be included in your will
Before you write your will or consult a solicitor, it's a good idea to think about what you want included in your will. You should consider:
- how much money and what property and possessions you have
- who you want to benefit from your will
- who should look after any children under 18 years of age
- who is going to sort out your estate and carry out your wishes after your death - that is your executor
An executor is the person responsible with passing on your estate. You can appoint an executor by naming them in your will. The courts can also appoint other people to be responsible for doing this job.
Where to keep your will safe
Once you've made your will, it is important to keep it in a safe place and tell your executor, close friend or relative where it is. If a solicitor makes your will, they will normally keep the original and send you a copy. You can ask for the original if you wish to hold it.
Keeping your will up-to-date
You should review your will every five years and after any major change in your life - such as getting separated, married or divorced, having a child or moving house. Any change must be by 'codicil' (an addition, amendment or supplement to a will) or by making a new will.
Making a will in Scotland
Scottish law on inheritance differs from English law. If you live in Scotland and want to make a will, you can contact a solicitor or voluntary organisations such as Age Concern Scotland or Citizens Advice Bureau for advice.
The Scottish Executive's 'Rights of succession' guide explains what happens if someone dies in Scotland without making a will.
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