What is a will?
You can also decide now who will look after your children if you die whilst they are still young by appointing guardians.
A properly drafted will can also minimise the effect of taxation and include express provisions about the disposal of your body.
Without a will a set of statutory rules are imposed which leave your estate to your next of kin in a fixed order. Please read our pages on intestacy for further information.
Are all wills valid?
The short answer is no. For a will to be valid it needs to be:
- In writing
- Properly signed and witnessed
- Made by someone age 18 or over
- Made by someone with the mental capacity to do so
- Not made as a result of pressure from someone else
For these reasons it is really important that your will is prepared by someone who is legally trained and has the knowledge and experience to make sure that it is valid.
Many home-made wills end up being written incorrectly with mistakes that make it impossible for your administrators to enforce your wishes. The beneficiaries you thought would inherit your estate could end up with nothing, as without a valid will your estate will be distributed according to intestacy rules.
Do I need a will?
Whatever you do in life, you’ll want your nearest and dearest to benefit from your hard work when you die, and the only way you can be sure that this happens is to make a will.
Without one your estate will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy, which can mean that your money and possessions end up where you didn’t want them, including with estranged relatives or even the government. The government receives millions of pounds each year in this way.
What are the benefits of having a will?
A will can ensure that:
- Your assets go where you want them to and are not distributed according to intestacy laws. For example, if you are unmarried partners, your partner will not automatically inherit your assets when you die, unless you have specified it in a will.
- You decide who will act as guardians for your children
- You minimise your inheritance tax liability
- Effective trusts are set up for family members where necessary
- Disagreements over your assets are avoided
- Your funeral wishes are specified
- Your assets do not go to the Crown
Why should I use a solicitor to make a will?
As seen above, a properly drafted will enables you to say exactly how your property, possessions and savings are to be shared out after your death, who should handle those affairs, who will look after your children as guardian, and who should look after any money that you put in trust for young or disabled beneficiaries.
Your will might be simple or more complex. Either way it is advisable to have a solicitor draft your will. Our experienced solicitors understand the importance of preparing a legally binding will and can ensure that it takes account of your personal circumstances, such as your specific estate, marital status, children and dependants, property, beneficiaries and witnesses.
Our highly experienced wills and probate solicitors will carefully draft your will to help ensure that your estate is distributed swiftly and avoid potentially difficult and costly disputes after your death.
We can also advise on tax-saving measures with the potential to save tens of thousands of pounds on Inheritance Tax (sometimes called ‘death duties’).
How do I make a will?
Making a will is quite straightforward, but needs to be carried out by an expert with knowledge of the complex issues involved and experience of avoiding the possible pitfalls of a badly written will.
How will Graysons help?
Our highly experienced wills and probate team will guide you through the process. We will:
- Meet with you and discuss your personal circumstances and wishes
- Offer advice regarding the legalities of the will
- Advise on Inheritance Tax planning if necessary
- Help you to decide on who should be executors of your estate. (These are the people you choose to administer your estate.) They are responsible for identifying the assets and debts, realising any assets to meet any debts and distributing any balance to your chosen beneficiaries)
- Prepare the will and ensure that it’s witnessed in the correct legal manner
- Offer the use of our secure will storage facility to keep your will safe and provide copies for your records
What should I think about when making a will?
We will guide you carefully when you come to see us about making your will to ensure that it is effective and meets your requirements. However, it’s very helpful if you think about your will and how you want it to work before you come to see us. For example, you might want to think about:
- Your estate itself and what it’s made up of. This can include property – including any property you own jointly, money (don’t forget that any money you have in a joint bank account passes automatically to the other account holder so you can’t leave it to anyone else), investments and possessions. Remember that your debts will have to be paid out of your estate before it’s distributed to your beneficiaries
- Who you want to inherit your estate. Who will be your beneficiaries? It can be individuals or organisations, such as a charity. It’s also helpful if you think about who you would want to inherit if the beneficiary you have chosen has died by the time they will inherit – but we will guide you through this
- Possessions – are there specific items that you want to leave to specific people?
- Executors – who do you want to administer your estate when you die? You should choose people you trust, and preferably choose more than one person. If your estate is complex, you might was to choose a solicitor as one of your executors. We can discuss this with you if you want to
Some particular situations are especially complex and failing to understand the implications could result in your will being challenged or being declared invalid. Some issues to consider include:
- Making provision for a dependant who is unable to care for themselves – if you’re a single parent with young children, for example, who would look after them after your death?
- Multiple family members who could make a claim, like a previous or subsequent spouse, or children from previous or multiple marriages
- Not understanding how marriage or civil partnership (or divorce or dissolution) can affect your will
- Cutting out any dependants from your will – under the Inheritance Act, if a dependant believes they’ve not been adequately provided for, the provisions in your will may be overturned by a judge
- If you’ve changed your will without the proper signatures and witnesses, the changes could be invalid
- Not making provision for the possibility that any of your beneficiaries could die before you – what would happen to their share then?
- Failing to account for all the money and property available
- You share a property with someone who isn’t your spouse or civil partner
- Your permanent home isn’t in the UK
- You’re resident here but own property overseas
- Anything involving a business you own, part own or have shares in.
Read about what can happen if your beneficiaries don’t declare a gift you have given them before you die.
I’ve made a will. Should I update it?
Some changes in your personal circumstances can significantly affect your will, so we recommend that you update your will whenever you encounter such changes. This could include changes such as:
- Disposal of assets
- Inheritance of new assets
- Financial changes that could affect your Inheritance Tax liability, such as increases in the value of property or shares
If you think you’ve encountered any changes in your life that might affect your will, please contact our wills and probate experts now to make an appointment to discuss your needs.
What if I change my mind after I’ve made a will?
Well, any one of us could die at any time, so if your life circumstances have dramatically changed, it’s best to reflect these new priorities in your will as soon as possible.
There are two ways you can change your will. If you have a small and straightforward alteration but want to leave the rest of your will intact, you can get a codicil, which should be signed by you and witnessed in the same way as your original will (the witnesses don’t have to be the same people as the original ones). But if you want to make major or complex changes to your will, it’s best to write a new will, making a clause that your new will revokes and cancels any previous wills and codicils. Then you should securely destroy the old one.
Where should I keep my will?
You can store your will in a safe place at home, with a will-writing service, or with your solicitor or accountant. You can also lodge it with the Probate Service (in England and Wales) for a flat fee.
There are pros and cons to each choice. If you store it at home, it’s free and convenient for people to access after your death, but it could get lost or damaged. Storing your will at a solicitors practice means it will be safe and you’ll have legal recourse if it’s lost or damaged. If you store the will at the practice of the solicitor who wrote it, storage will usually be free of charge. If they didn’t write it, there may be a charge. If you’re will is produced by a will writing service and stored by that company, there may be a charge and you will have less legal protection from damage, loss, or dissolution of the company, than that given by a solicitor. Storing it with the Probate Service means there’s a traceable process: you’ll have to lodge the will with the service officially, and make official requests to take it back again, so it’s unlikely to get lost in their care. However, it can be inflexible, because during your lifetime only you can make requests to take it out again, instead of asking someone like a solicitor to do it for you.
Don’t keep it at the bank in a safety deposit box, as that means it can’t be opened until your executor is granted probate (that’s permission from the court to deal with your affairs) – and probate can’t be granted without the will!
Make sure your executors know where your will is stored – and write it down, too.
Should I keep an additional copy of my will?
Yes, it’s a good idea to have an additional copy after you’ve made it. Make sure you have a copy stored with the Probate Service or your solicitors. At Graysons, as well as writing and storing your will, we will give you an additional copy of your will to store at home.
I suspect fraud in the case of a will. What should I do?
Seek immediate legal advice. Proving fraud can sometimes be very difficult, and you’ll need a solicitor with detailed legal knowledge to help you prove a will is fraudulent.
What is a no contest clause?
This is a clause put into a will that dictates a beneficiary could forfeit their inheritance if they challenge or contest the will.
What are the places a will could be stored?
There’s no legal requirement to store your will in a particular place, but you should keep it somewhere safe yet easy to access. Ideal places are with your solicitor or lodged with the probate registry.
Never store your will in a safe deposit box at your bank or building society (unless this can be jointly managed by your executors and easily accessible for them after death) banks and building societies often require probate before they can open it, and probate can’t be granted without the will!
Should I tell people where my will is kept?
Yes, tell your executors, important people like your spouse and children, or someone else you trust where your will is stored, so they can access it after your death.
If your will can’t be found, there’s a chance your estate could instead be administered under the rules of intestacy. So make sure people know you have a will, and where you have securely stored it.
How do I know if a will has gone to probate?
A probate record will be available for wills that have been granted probate. We cover more about this in our probate page.
Katie (Birch). Thank you so much for meeting with us both this week. You were incredibly helpful and very warm and engaging. Your questions really helped us to focus on what we wanted to have in our wills, so thank you for your professionalism. Thank you for getting in touch with the respective charitable organisations we want to donate to in our wills and confirming that arrangements will be processed according to our wishes.
Anon of Sheffield