The estate

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 distributed according to the law. There are rules stating how the estate should be shared out, called intestacy rules. This may not tally with what you would have wanted. For example, if you have an unmarried partner, they will not automatically be entitled to 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 reduce Inheritance Tax
    By planning your will carefully, you may be able to reduce your Inheritance Tax bill. The Money Advice Service has more information on Inheritance Tax.
  4. To continue 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.

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.

You’ll then want to consider who you want to leave your assets to, and who should have what. If you want a certain item to go to a particular person, be specific, or it will be included in the general valuation of your estate. 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. The Money Advice Service has more information on this.

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 (0333 2020 454, societyoflaterlifeadvisers.co.uk) or Unbiased (0800 023 6868, unbiased.co.uk).

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 choosing who to appoint. Anyone over 18 can be your executor, even if they are a beneficiary of your will. You could appoint a family member, friend, or a professional like a solicitor or accountant. You can appoint more than executor. It’s a good idea to choose more than one executor, so that the work can be shared between them, and in case one executor dies before you.

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

How to make a will

There are several ways 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. The Money Advice Service has more information.
  • use a solicitor.

You could invalidate your will 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
  • 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 (020 7320 5650, solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk).

The Money Advice Service website has more advice on making a will.

Free schemes

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

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

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 £95) and spaces are limited, so book an appointment in advance. Search for participating solicitors on the Will Aid website or call 0300 030 9558. Unlike Free Wills Month, there is no minimum age to qualify for Will Aid.

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

Reviewing your will

You should review your will every five years or if your circumstances change, for example, if you marry or divorce, move house, grandchildren are born, or your chosen executor dies. If you get married, this cancels any will you previously made.

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 amend your will.

Leaving a gift to Independent Age

A gift in your Will to Independent Age will be a lasting contribution towards ending the isolation and loneliness older people face. For more information, read our page Include a gift in your will.

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