The estate

This is everything left by someone who has died, including property, money, and other possessions.

Reasons to make a will

  1. To make sure your wishes are carried out
    If you don’t leave a will, your estate will be shared out according to the law. This is known as intestacy rules. This may not be the same as what you would have wanted. For example, if you're not married to your partner, they won’t automatically inherit anything.
  2. To help your friends and family
    If you don’t leave a will, it can be more stressful for your family to sort things out after your death. Making your wishes clear can also prevent family disputes.
  3. To pay the right amount of Inheritance Tax
    By planning your will carefully, you may be able to reduce your Inheritance Tax bill – see Money Helper for more information.
  4. To support the causes you care about
    For example, you could leave a gift to a charity or political party you support.

Planning your will

Even if you’re using a solicitor, you’ll need to make some rough plans before visiting them.

What do you own?

Make a list of your assets and roughly what they’re worth. This might include:

  • savings and investments
  • objects of value, such as jewellery, furniture and paintings
  • items of sentimental value
  • your home and any other properties you own
  • your pension, in some circumstances – check the rules of your pension scheme.

You should also think about any debt you have.

Who do you want things to go to?

You’ll then want to consider who you want to leave your assets to – known as your beneficiaries – and who should have what.

If you want a certain item to go to a particular person, be specific. Otherwise it'll be included when your estate is valued.

Gifts you leave in your will are known as legacies. You can leave different types of legacy, such as fixed sums of money or specific items.

Visit Money Helper for more on planning what to leave in your will.

Get advice on Inheritance Tax

If you think you’ll have to pay Inheritance Tax on your estate, there are legal ways to reduce the amount that may be due. It’s a good idea to get advice on this. You can find a financial adviser specialising in Inheritance Tax through the Society of Later Life Advisers or Unbiased.

Choosing your executors

An executor makes sure the terms of your will are carried out. This can be time-consuming and complicated so bear this in mind when deciding who to choose.

Anyone over 18 can be your executor, even if they are a beneficiary of your will. You could choose a:

  • family member or friend
  • professional, such as a solicitor or accountant.

It’s a good idea to choose more than one executor, so that they can share the work between them, and in case one executor dies before you.

Make sure that you check with your chosen executor(s) whether they’d be happy to take on this job. You should include their full name and address in your will so that they can be easily found.

How to make a will

You can:

  • write one yourself – you can buy templates in stationery shops or online
  • use a will-writing service. Will-writing services can be cheaper than solicitors, but unlike solicitors they aren’t necessarily legally qualified. Find out more on Money Helper.
  • use a solicitor.

Getting support to make your will

Your will may not be valid if you don’t use the correct wording. Unless your will is completely straightforward – for example, you want to leave everything to a partner – it’s best to get advice rather than write it yourself.

For example, it’s a good idea to use a solicitor if:

  • you’re likely to have to pay Inheritance Tax – you'll probably have to pay some Inheritance Tax if the value of your estate is above £325,000
  • there are a number of people who could make a claim on your will
  • you want to protect the interests of a dependant who wouldn’t be able to look after themselves, for example a disabled family member.

A solicitor can check for mistakes that could make your will invalid.

You can find a solicitor through the Law Society.

Visit Money Helper for more advice on making a will

Free will-writing schemes

Charities sometimes offer free will-writing services from a solicitor. You may want to make a donation in return.

If you already support a charity, check if it's part of the National Free Wills Network. Some charities, including Independent Age, offer their supporters free will-writing services through this.

Free Wills Month runs twice a year in some parts of England, in partnership with several charities. People over 55 can have a will drawn up or updated free of charge by a solicitor taking part in the scheme – you can search for a solicitor on their website. If your will is complicated, there may be a charge, so check with the solicitor in advance. The scheme usually runs in October and March.

Will Aid runs a scheme in November, in partnership with nine charities. Participating solicitors offer to write basic wills for free. There’s a suggested minimum donation (currently £100) and spaces are limited, so book an appointment in advance. You can search for solicitors who are taking part on the Will Aid website. Unlike Free Wills Month, there is no minimum age to qualify for Will Aid.

Reviewing your will

You should review your will every five years or if your circumstances change – for example:

  • separation or divorce
  • getting married (this cancels any previous wills you made)
  • moving house
  • have grandchildren
  • your chosen executor dies.

You can’t alter your will document after it’s been signed and witnessed, so you’ll need to create a separate document called a codicil to make changes. If you want to make big changes, it may be best to make a new will and destroy your old one. Get advice from a solicitor if you want to change your will.

Leaving a gift to Independent Age

You may be interested in leaving a gift in your will to Independent Age. By doing so, you’ll make a lasting contribution towards helping more people live with dignity, choice and purpose in their later years.

To find out more, read our page on leaving a legacy to charity in your will.

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