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How to Write My Own Will

Writing your own will is a relatively straightforward process if your assets and bequests are also straightforward. In these circumstances, as long as you comply with the laws of your state, your will is likely to stand up in a court of law and be executed according to your wishes. You can easily write your own will through one of two methods: either draft it yourself on a computer or typewriter, or create one through an online program.

Writing your own will is a relatively straightforward process if your assets and bequests are also straightforward. In these circumstances, as long as you comply with the laws of your state, your will is likely to stand up in a court of law and be executed according to your wishes. You can easily write your own will through one of two methods: either draft it yourself on a computer or typewriter, or create one through an online program.

Write the introduction to the will. Start by clearly labeling the document “Last Will and Testament.” Next, state your full name and address, and testify that you are over the age of 18, are of sound mind and are not making the will under duress. Finally, write that this is your last will and testament, and that it revokes any previously made will or codicil. You may want to include your social security number and birth date for clarity. If you are using an online program, the program should automatically generate this introduction.

Select an executor. An executor is the person who carries out the directions of your will. Most married people name their spouse as the executor; however, it is also common to name a capable friend. Talk to this person about his willingness to take on this responsibility before officially naming him as executor. Also choose an alternate executor in the event that your first choice is unwilling or unable to perform his duties upon your death.

Identify your heirs. Normally, your spouse, life partner and children are the primary beneficiaries; however, you may want to make provisions for other persons. Be sure to clearly identify these persons so that there is no ambiguity as to their identities. Also, note that in most states the spouse has a legal right to inherit. Seek professional legal advice if you reside in one of these states and want to disinherit your spouse.

Name a guardian for any minor or dependent children. If your children are of an age where they still require guardianship and have no other natural parent to take care of them, choose a person to take care of your children until they reach the age of majority. Be sure to discuss this responsibility with the person that you would like to name, as this is a weighty commitment that could last for many years. If you do not choose a person, the court will appoint one for you.

Assess and divide your property. List your assets, including real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds and tangible assets, then assign your heirs a percentage of your total assets. For example, you might say that your wife is to receive 50 percent of your assets, while both your children will receive 25 percent each. You can also make individual bequests of specific pieces of property or cash amounts to individuals other than your named heirs. Note that assets that already have a designated beneficiary or are jointly-owned are not considered part of your estate.

Sign the will. If you have created a will through an online program, have the document sent to you before signing sign it. Some states require that your signature be notarized, meaning signed in the presence of a public notary and stamped with the notary’s seal.

Ask witnesses to sign the will. Every state requires at least two witnesses to sign the will, and some states require three. The witnesses usually must not be named beneficiaries in the will. Take care to carefully follow the laws of your state with regard to witnesses, as a mistake can invalidate your entire will.

Making a will

Your will lets you decide what happens to your money, property and possessions after your death.

If you make a will you can also make sure you don’t pay more Inheritance Tax than you need to.

You need to get your will formally witnessed and signed to make it legally valid.

If you want to update your will, you need to make an official alteration (called a ‘codicil’) or make a new will.

If you die without a will, the law says who gets what.

Cheap and Free Wills

Ways to make a will cheaply

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Updated March 2018

Let’s be brutal – we’re all going to die. And if it happens when you’re will-less, on top of the grief, it can cause a financial nightmare for the people you care about.

Worryingly, one in two UK adults haven’t got a will, according to new research from financial website Unbiased. This guide shows you how you can get will-writing done for free, either by a solicitor in return for a small charity donation, or DIY if it’s simple.

In this guide

While every effort’s been made to ensure this article’s accuracy, it doesn’t constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk. We can’t assume responsibility and don’t accept liability for any damage or loss which may arise as a result of your reliance upon it.

Do you need a will?

Die will-less and your affairs can be in limbo for years. Yet many either don’t want to think about making a will or are worried about the cost. You must be aware it could leave behind big problems, possibly as severe as being unable to pay the bills as the bank’s locked off the money. So.

Whatever your age, if you’ve assets, eg, a house, savings, or a business, and people or others you’d like to look after, consider making a will.

While thinking, talking and planning for death may feel uncomfortable, you need to consider how much worse the situation would be if you died or became incapacitated – through illness, accident, old age or emergency – without sorting it.

Not making a will can cause months or years of grief for your loved ones. Site user Hollie Bird tweeted us:

Two years on I’m dealing with the fall out from Mum not having a will! Please get a will!

There are many specific reasons for writing a will, including:

If you have children or step-children under 18, you should choose who will look after them and ensure there are funds to help.

The law doesn’t really recognise this, so don’t expect anything to go to your partner if you don’t make a will.

You may want to update your will to include what happens to your assets if a previous partner remarries.

  • Pets

    Decide what should happen to family pets.

    If you know what you want your funeral to be like, you can detail it so that your family doesn’t have to make the decisions.

  • Property

    ‘Joint tenant’ mortgages automatically pass to the other owner. If you’ve a ‘tenants in common’ mortgage, it’s important to say what happens to your share of the house. If you own a property overseas, inheritance laws may be different to the UK.

    Update your will when you marry, divorce or have kids.

    If you’re a sole director, it’s possible that if you die without executors, nobody can authorise payments (including to staff), so your business could collapse.

    What does a will do?

    Writing a will has four main functions:

    These are the people who’ll look after the financial process when you die. Try to choose a responsible and trusted friend or relative, who can think clearly in a troubled time.

    Alternatively some name a bank or solicitor, though they often charge monstrous fees (and can add themselves automatically), so make sure you only allow this if you’ve chosen it for yourself.

    They’re also the people who will sort out finances – such as paying off the mortgage and/or other debts out of your estate. Your estate is everything you own at the point you die, including your property, businesses, car, savings, investments, pension fund, life insurance, expensive jewellery, pets and more. (See what happens to debts when you die.)

    One useful tip we’ve seen recently is to even include internet passwords in a separate document to accompany your will so that your executor has access to all of your online accounts.

    Do remember though, you’re under NO obligation to add the writer of your will as an executor, or in fact buy any additional services on top of the writing costs. Some may suggest this, or add it to your will as default, so check.

  • To distribute your estate

    This is where you work out who you want your estate to go to. As explained above, that means everything you own at the point you die, including your property, businesses, car, savings, investments, pension fund, life insurance, expensive jewellery, pets and more.

    Be aware, though, you can’t force people to take what you leave them. Whether it’s a sofa, or a house in negative equity, they don’t have to take it. If a person disclaims a bequest, it goes in with the residue of the estate. This is dealt with under the residuary clause in the will.

    To provide for any surviving children aged under 18

    If you die, responsibility for your children automatically goes to anyone else with ‘parental responsibility’. Mothers automatically have this, with fathers it’s trickier, see table below.

    Fathers and parental responsibility

    Father, any other scenario (eg, child born before 1 Dec 2003, father not named on birth certificate)

    Note: The above information applies to England and Wales. See Gov.uk for info on Scotland, Northern Ireland, same-sex relationships and adoption..

    People with dependent children should make a will to name a guardian(s) for their children, and also to allocate funds to ensure they’re financially supported while growing up (though another signed, witnessed written document will suffice).

    If you don’t make a will, and there is no one else with parental responsibility, the courts will decide what happens to your child in the event of your death.

    To reduce inheritance tax

    If you die intestate (without a will) there are strict laws about to whom and how your estate is distributed (see intestate rules). This causes two problems. First, the money may not go where you want, and secondly, it’s likely to be inefficient for inheritance tax purposes.

    The law says you pay 40% of any assets worth over Ј325,000 that you leave, so those with valuable houses or larger estates could pay a fortune. Yet there are many legal ways you can plan ahead to reduce this.

    A wills law reform may soon make will-writing easier

    The Law Commission, an independent body which takes on projects to reform areas of law, has said current will laws are outdated and need to be overhauled.

    An example of this is that wills are only valid if the person writing it understands what they’re doing – however, the law uses a Victorian test which takes no account of modern medical understanding, eg, it doesn’t reflect what we now know about conditions such as dementia.

    It also wants courts to have the power to recognise a will even if it hasn’t been written under formal guidelines, allow for electronic wills to be made and lower the age people can make a will to 16 (currently it’s 18).

    So the commission launched a consultation with the aim of reforming this and other rules. The consultation closed on 10 November 2017 and the Law Commission is currently analysing the responses.

    Option 1: Free professional wills

    Wills are legal documents, and as small errors can cause big problems, it’s preferable to have someone legally qualified draft it for you. But getting a solicitor to write your will isn’t cheap. Even a simple will could easily cost Ј150 in fees, and you’ll have to pay VAT on top of that.

    However some solicitors have more expertise at will-writing than others, and just because you get it through a charity is no guarantee of quality. Unfortunately it’s not easy to review and assess individual solicitors or will-writers so our primary focus is on cost, not feedback or expertise.

    If you’ve complicated affairs and a will-writing expert is your prime concern, then looking for recommendations and the reputation of individual will-writers or solicitors is the best bet.

    Are you already entitled to one?

    A number of organisations and groups provide wills to limited numbers of qualifying individuals, so check if you’re entitled to one of these first.

    Trade unions and employers

    A number of trade unions, including major ones like the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the NASUWT teachers’ union, the Fire Brigades Union and Unison offer free or heavily discounted will-writing services to their members – so if you’ve got your union card they’re worth checking.

    Alternatively a few employers may offer will-writing as part of their legal services. Check exactly how it works, though. If it’s just filling in a template letter, you may be better with the full solicitor-drafted options below.

    Included in home or car insurance legal cover

    If you opted to get legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, check whether it includes a will service. For example, More Than’s approx Ј20 home insurance add-on legal service allows access to a range of wills and other legal template documents.

    Complete your details and the will is checked by a legal team, who’ll send it back to you for signing.

    Of course, this is only suitable for simple wills. But it’s worth seeing if your insurer offers it.

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    Charity-based schemes

    Many charities offer solicitor will-writing schemes, and these are usually completely free. In return, while you’re not obliged to , they hope you’ll make a donation or bequest (a donation in your will) as part of it. Here’s a list of the main schemes.

    Do remember it is a charity paying for your will, and it may be shelling out Ј100s, so please seriously consider leaving a bequest.

    March is Free Wills Month – in England, Scotland & Wales

    Every March and October it’s Free Wills Month. It offers – as the name suggests – free solicitor-drafted wills. However, you must be aged 55+ to get an individual will, though if you’re getting a ‘mirror will’ as a couple, only one of you needs to be 55+.

    Normally you could pay Ј100 or more (plus 20% of the cost as VAT) for even the simplest will.

    How do I get my free will? You must first complete the form on the Free Wills Month website. It’ll then show solicitors close to you who are taking part (if there are any).

    It’s available in more than 40 locations – to find the one nearest to you, just type your postcode in to the website.

    Is Free Wills Month available in my area this March?

    Solicitors in the following towns, cities and counties are taking part: Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Barry, Berkshire, Blackpool, Bridgend, Buckinghamshire, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Chesterfield, Chichester, Coventry, Crawley, Darlington, Dundee, Eastbourne, Edinburgh, Essex, Fife, Glasgow, Harrogate, Hastings, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lampeter, Liverpool, London, Merseyside, Middlesbrough, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Newport, Northampton, Peterborough, Sheffield, Sunderland, Swansea, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Worthing.

    How can I help the charities that back the scheme? The charities involved pay for the solicitors’ time, so be prepared for your solicitor to ask you to consider making a bequest to a charity in your will (leaving the charity something when you die). The wish is that you will do so, but you’re under no obligation.

    Which charities are sponsoring this scheme?

    The charities vary between locations but the full list of sponsors for March 2018 is: Age UK, Arthritis Research UK, Blue Cross, Breast Cancer Now, British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK, Dogs Trust, Guide Dogs, Marie Curie, Mencap, Mind, National Trust, NSPCC, Prostate Cancer UK, Redwings, RNLI, Royal British Legion, Salvation Army, Stroke Association, Tenovus Cancer Care and Worldwide Cancer Research.

    What if I have complex financial affairs? The scheme covers simple wills – so if your affairs are complex, your solicitor’s likely to ask you to pay a contribution to cover the extra time they spend writing your will.

    Appointments are also limited by the number of wills each solicitor is happy to write under the scheme.

    • Who’s it for? People aged 55 or over
    • When is it? March and October
    • Where is it? England, Scotland and Wales
    • Who writes the will? External solicitor
    • Donation asked for? You’ll be asked to leave money to a charity in your will. But the decision is yours.

    Will Aid – nationwide

    A UK-wide scheme, run every November, Will Aid teams up with over 900 solicitors to provide basic wills. One of its main advantages is it doesn’t impose a minimum age on who can get a will.

    There’s no set fee but Will Aid hopes you’ll make a donation of around Ј95 for a single will (Ј150 for a couple). This is a good price for a solicitor-drafted will (which often costs around Ј150 for a simple will) but of course if you can’t afford it, you can give less, don’t game it though as it is a charity event.

    Just follow three simple steps:

    Put your postcode in the Will Aid website or phone 0300 0309 558 to find your nearest participating solicitor.

    Contact it to arrange an appointment, stating you’re calling as part of the Will Aid scheme. You could then use its will planner to prepare for the meeting.

    Before you go to the appointment, donate via the Will Aid website, and take a print-out of the receipt with you when you go (or you can donate once you’re at the solicitor’s).

    Solicitors do this primarily to help the charities, though of course it does bring in potential new customers as well.

    Usually, this is a very efficient system. However, for a scheme this size there can be the odd glitch, such as appointments filling up quickly. For a discussion on the etiquette of suggested donations and responses, read the full Will Aid discussion on the forum.

    You also get free will registration (to make it easy for your family to find your will) via Certainty National Wills Register.

    Will Relief Scotland

    Each September, Scottish residents can get a will through Will Relief Scotland. This is a partnership between Scottish solicitors and four charities which specialise in development work and the relief of poverty overseas.

    There’s no set fee but suggested donations are Ј80 for a single, Ј120 for a joint and Ј40 to update your will. The donation’s given to the solicitor to pass on to Will Relief Scotland. Find your nearest solicitor on the Will Relief Scotland site or phone 01349 830777.

    The charities are: Mission Aviation Fellowship (in Glasgow), EMMS International (in Edinburgh), Blythswood Care (in Evanton, Ross-shire) and Signpost International (in Dundee).

    • Who’s it for? Everyone who’s a Scottish resident
    • When is it? September
    • Where is it? Throughout Scotland
    • Who writes the will? External solicitor
    • Donation asked for? Suggested donation – Ј80 single, Ј120 joint, Ј40 update (called a codicil)

    Individual charity schemes

    Most individual charities that operate free will-drafting services do it in the hope of a bequest (a donation in your will). This has the advantage that you needn’t pay now, it’ll come out of your estate and it’s inheritance-tax deductible.

    Cancer Research UK

    Over-55s can get a free, simple will drawn up or updated via the Cancer Research UK Free Will Service. You can find your nearest participating solicitor on the charity’s website or by calling their Regional Legacy Team on 0300 123 7733.

    Once you’ve found a solicitor you want to use, call them to arrange an appointment, making sure you mention you’re using the Cancer Research UK Free Will Service.

    Download and complete the Free Will Service Form on Cancer Research UK’s website and take it along to your appointment. The solicitor will then prepare everything for you and once your will is finished and signed they will invoice Cancer Research UK up to a fixed fee.

    The Cancer Research UK Free Will Service is free to you but do think about making a bequest to Cancer Research UK to support their work.

    The Stroke Association

    The Stroke Association offers a free simple will. To get info, either email info@stroke.org.uk, complete the online form on The Stroke Association website or call 020 7566 1505.

    You’ll be sent a free will pack within five working days which will explain details of its free will scheme.

    • Who’s it for? 60+ (or stroke survivors who are 18+)
    • When is it? Limited period. Contact for details.
    • Where is it? Nationwide
    • Who writes the will? External solicitor
    • Donation asked for? You will be asked to leave a gift for the Stroke Association in your will but the decision is yours

    The Children’s Hospital

    The Children’s Hospital Charity (based in Sheffield) has partnered with a national law firm, Irwin Mitchell, to offer a discounted will-writing service that also benefits the charity.

    Contact Irwin Mitchell directly by either calling 0330 1230882 or emailing wills@irwinmitchell.co.uk quoting TCHC to get a standard single will for Ј100 (normally Ј175) or a standard ‘mirror will’ for Ј190 (normally Ј275). Irwin Mitchell donate 20% of the fee you pay to the charity.

    Note that if you have more complex will needs you may have to pay additional costs – but these will be explained to you before you commit.

    • Who’s it for? No restrictions
    • When is it? Ongoing
    • Where is it? Nationwide
    • Who writes the will? Irwin Mitchell solicitor
    • Donation asked for? 20% of discounted fee is donated to the charity

    Other charities

    If you have a particular charity in mind that you’d like to leave a gift to, check with it whether it runs a scheme of its own. There are a number of charities signed up to the National Free Wills Network that also offer free simple wills – usually for charity members and over-55s.

    The charity will usually check that you have donated to them in the past, or are a member, to be eligible for the free will. Each charity’s offering is slightly different so ensure you read up.

    Option 2: Low-cost professional wills

    If the free solicitor writing services above don’t fit, there are a few other low-cost options for making a will. These are usually best where affairs are simple.

    If you use a solicitor-run service, solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and you can also go to the Legal Ombudsman if things do go wrong. Our expertise, of course, is saving money so the following are based on price, not quality.

    Which? codes – Ј84.50 single, Ј129.50 joint

    Via this blagged link, Which?* offers an online will-writing service. Single wills cost Ј84.50 – using code WML3S – and joint (mirror) wills Ј129.50 – using code WML3M. They’re usually priced at Ј169 and Ј259 respectively – but for the discount you have to pay by Sat 31 Mar. The discount is automatically included when you click the Which? link above.

    It has three levels of will-writing services – this is for the premium service but the code makes it cheaper than the other two. It gets you a professionally bound will and a token year of will storage if you want Which? to store it for you – it’s Ј25/year after.

    Which? Wills says this service may not be suitable for those wanting to include a business in the will.

    Once you have bought your will you complete it in your own time (you can call for support on 01992 822803). Its wills specialists will then check and review your will and once it’s approved send you a printed and bound will to sign and send back to it for secure storage (as above, it’s only free for the first year).

    To get the discount, follow the link to buy online.

    • Who’s it for? Everyone
    • Where is it? England, Scotland, Wales and NI
    • Who writes the will? You but the template is then checked
    • Costs: Single Ј169, joint Ј259 (discounts often available, see current discount above)

    Co-op Legal Services – Ј99 single, Ј185 joint

    Via this blagged link, Co-op Legal Services* offers a fixed fee will-writing service. It includes free secure storage, with single wills costing Ј99 and joint or mirror wills for couples costing Ј185 (usually priced at Ј150 and Ј234 respectively) as long as you apply by Sat 31 Mar.

    It’s an online will-writing service with access to a professional will-writer over the phone who will talk you through anything you’re unsure of. Start your will online – you pay for your will when the will-writer calls you back to go over it.

    You’ll then be sent a draft will, when you can change anything that’s not right. While slightly more expensive than the Which? offer above, once you’re happy with it and have signed it, Co-op will store your will for free for life. Co-op Legal Services is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

    To get the discount, follow the link above to buy online.

    • Who’s it for? Everyone
    • Where is it? England and Wales
    • Who writes the will? Co-op Legal Services but you can amend it
    • Costs: Single Ј150, joint Ј234 (not including discounts, detailed above)

    Online solicitors – usually cheapest, but check what service you’re getting

    There are various fixed-fee legal document services that allow you to carry out certain legal processes, including creating a will, solely online.

    You’re usually asked a series of questions to create your document, which will then be sent to a solicitor to check it (including conflict checks and money laundering) and suggest any changes before being sent back to you.

    Rocket Lawyer: While Rocket Lawyer works on a Ј25-a-month subscription basis, the trick is to use its seven-day free trial. Use these free days to create and get your will checked (a 30-min consultation with a qualified solicitor) and you’ll never have to pay a penny, so long as you cancel in time. You can still access your legal document online after the end of your free trial to print and download it but you won’t be able to edit it.

    GlossLegal: Developed by a trust and estates solicitor, GlossLegal charges Ј34.95 for a self-printing single will and Ј89.95 for a bound and posted version for couples.

    ExpertWills: A solicitor in Cambridge offers wills over the telephone (seven days a week until 7pm) via its ExpertWills service. If you quote MoneySavingExpert.com you can get a single will for Ј99 or a ‘mirror will’ for Ј149.

    Local solicitors – find a will-writer near you

    You can find a local solicitor on the Law Society’s database. Or if you need one that provides specialist legal advice for older and vulnerable people, their families and carers, try Solicitors For The Elderly.

    Option 3: DIY wills

    If you’ve very simple circumstances, a ‘template’ will, available from stationery shops or computer software packages, which you complete and fill at home, can be a cheap way to do it.

    Before going further, you must know if you make any mistakes, you won’t benefit from the protection you’d get if a solicitor did it, whether that’s professional indemnity insurance, recourse to the Legal Ombudsman, or various codes of practice from The Society of Will Writers or the Institute of Professional Will Writers.

    Online DIY wills

    Perhaps the best known template is the Lawpack* brand which starts at Ј11.49. Alternatively, the free legal advice site Compact Law has some free-to-download templates.

    There are also templates on several websites where you input your details online and then you’re emailed your will, or sent a copy in the post. Sites include: Online Will Writer (costs Ј29.95, covers England, Wales and Scotland) and Makeawillonline.co.uk (Ј29.50 for one or Ј39.50 for two, covers England and Wales), which is a member of the Society of Will Writers.

    SimpleWills.net*: Complete an online, multiple-choice questionnaire which forms the basis of your will. Pay for it and then download and sign. A single will cost you Ј27 (usually priced Ј38.95) with the code MSE-2017-SW; a mirror will for couples will cost Ј48 (usually priced Ј68.95) with the discount code MSE-2017-MW. Your first rewrite is free with 10% discount off subsequent rewrites/updates. It covers England, Wales and Scotland.

    QWills: A company based in Cardiff offers a subsidised will-writing service in the hope that you’ll leave a legacy to one of the more than eight charities it supports. QWills allow you to make a will online, with a single will costing Ј60 or a ‘mirror will’ costing Ј99.

    Your Will Be Done: A UK company offers an online service called ‘Will for life’ where you make a one-off payment and are able to update your will (for free) as often as needed throughout your lifetime. The will is a template with guidance notes and costs Ј19.97 for a single will or Ј29.97 for a ‘mirror will’. The company gets your will checked by a legal professional which costs Ј25 extra. The wills are written and checked by a member of the Society of Will Writers.

    What do I need to know to do a DIY will?

    There are some basic legal requirements that are needed to make a will and DIYing will mean these rest on your shoulders (remember the potential Inheritance Tax issues too).

    For example, you must be over the age of 18 and have the mental capacity to make a will. It also needs to be dated and witnessed correctly and it must state that it replaces all previous versions (and if there are any, these should be destroyed).

    It’s common for people to make mistakes, such as names of people or charities being misspelled or information about assets being too vague, so be careful and be as specific as possible.

    In anything other than simple cases, as it’s a legal document, a solicitor or qualified will-writer should check it fully to ensure its accuracy and to avoid the chance of it being invalid or contested when you die, which could cost more in the long run.

    Q&A: Wills and inheritance

    How do you store a will?

    Once you’ve created a will, it’s usually stored with a solicitor and you get a copy. Most charge a small fee for this.

    If you’d rather store it yourself, you can just keep it at home but this isn’t really recommended. Instead, you could store it with the Probate Service in England and Wales. There’s a fee of Ј20 to do this, but withdrawing it is free. In Northern Ireland, wills can be deposited with The Probate Office for a fee of Ј33. You can find out more about the various options for storing your will in Scotland on the Citizen’s Advice Scotland website.

    Do debts die with you?

    This is a commonly held myth. While it’s true to an extent, as always with these things it’s a lot more complex than that.

    If you have debts including credit card, loan or mortgage balances, then that amount will come out of your estate before your beneficiaries will get the money. If you don’t have any assets at all then the debts will be written off. Here’s three simplified examples to help explain it.

    This is simple, you’ve nothing to leave and no one has to take the debts.

    Debts Ј40,000, you own a Ј200,000 home.

    Here the debt will need paying or sorting from the estate before the person you left the home to can take it.

    Debts Ј120,000, you own a Ј100,000 home.

    Again for someone to get your home the debts will need clearing. Your beneficiary could choose to pay this to keep hold of the house, but of course it’d mean they’d take on the extra debt. Alternatively they could choose not to take the home.

    For full details on this see the Gov.UK website.

    What about inheritance tax?

    Inheritance Tax is what you (or technically your estate) has to pay if the value of your estate exceeds the government’s threshold, currently Ј325,000 per person.

    However there’s an additional new ‘main residence band’ which complicates this. See our Inheritance Tax guide for a full explainer.

    Anything above this limit is taxed at 40%, so can cost loved ones hundreds of thousands in the event of your death. Yet it’s possible to legally avoid huge swathes of it, or possibly pay none at all.

    Can I leave a will for if I become incapacitated?

    You can, but it’s not the same sort of will. Everyone should consider having something to say who should look after their finances if they become unable to do it themselves; due to dementia, mental illness or being in an accident.

    Writing a Living Will (also called an Advance Decision) means that you can specify the level of medical treatment you’ll receive if you’re incapacitated and can’t communicate at the time. You may, for example, specify not to be resuscitated if your heart stops. This is legally binding.

    Another measure you can take, for example, if you are in the early stages of a degenerative disease is to appoint what’s called a lasting power of attorney. There are two types – one relating to your health, and one to your financial affairs. You can make one type, or both.

    If you’ve no living will or lasting power of attorney, and you become incapacitated, the responsibility for looking after your estate passes to the Government.

    If you’ve nothing in place, your family will need to apply for a court order, which can take months to process, to get back in control of your estate. You can read more on this on our Power of Attorney guide.

    What happens if I don’t leave a will?

    Hundreds of thousands of people die each year without having a will, known as intestacy, making it complex for all family left behind, especially if you are not married.

    If this happens to you, there are strict rules on what will happen to your estate and it could leave someone you want to protect unprotected. What happens depends on where in the UK you live.

    Before we go into it though, it’s important to say, wherever in the UK you live: If you live with someone and you’re not married or in a civil partnership and you don’t have a will – your partner will inherit NOTHING.

    Read on for location specific rules.

    I live in England or Wales

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with no children. Your entire estate will go to your surviving partner, regardless of how much it is worth.

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with children. The first Ј250,000 of your estate will go to your surviving partner. Anything above this amount will be split; half to your surviving partner and half between your surviving children (held in trust for them if they’re under 18).

    I’m unmarried or single with no children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and if they are not alive, it will go to your closest blood relative eg, brother or sister. If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.

    I’m unmarried or single with children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving children.

    We’ve set out how it works below, but the rules are a bit complicated, so for full details see the NI Government website. In short.

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with no children. The first Ј450,000 of the estate and household personal possessions including cars (in England and Wales this counts as part of the estate), will go to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount will be shared among other surviving blood relatives in order of closeness, eg, parents, siblings, half siblings etc.

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with children. The first Ј250,000 of the estate and household personal possessions including cars, will go to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount is called the residue and will be shared between the surviving partner and the surviving children. If there is one child the residue is split in half. If there is more than one child the surviving partner gets a third of the residue. The children split equally two thirds of the residue (regardless if there are two kids or seven).

    I’m unmarried or single with no children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and other blood relatives (in descending order). If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.

    I’m unmarried or single with children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving children.

    Rules are a little more complicated than for the rest of the UK and are dependent on how much your property is worth, how much you have in cash savings and the value of any furniture you own. Rules are further complicated by whether or not you have any surviving children.

    See HMRC’s rules for more information.

    What can I do if I think a relative’s estate has gone to the Crown?

    The Government’s Bona Vacantia division (BVD) has a list of unclaimed estates which it updates daily. Check if you’re eligible and for the information you’ll need to make a claim on a deceased relative’s estate with the BVD. You have up to 30 years from the date of death to make a claim.

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    Let’s talk about d.e.a.t.h.

    Death! The D-word. Are your eyes sliding off it? It’s okay. Few of us enjoy thinking about the grim reaper. But facts are facts: it’s on the way, sooner or later, and there are practicalities…

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    Updated March 2018

    Let’s be brutal – we’re all going to die. And if it happens when you’re will-less, on top of the grief, it can cause a financial nightmare for the people you care about.

    Worryingly, one in two UK adults haven’t got a will, according to new research from financial website Unbiased. This guide shows you how you can get will-writing done for free, either by a solicitor in return for a small charity donation, or DIY if it’s simple.

    In this guide

    While every effort’s been made to ensure this article’s accuracy, it doesn’t constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk. We can’t assume responsibility and don’t accept liability for any damage or loss which may arise as a result of your reliance upon it.

    Do you need a will?

    Die will-less and your affairs can be in limbo for years. Yet many either don’t want to think about making a will or are worried about the cost. You must be aware it could leave behind big problems, possibly as severe as being unable to pay the bills as the bank’s locked off the money. So.

    Whatever your age, if you’ve assets, eg, a house, savings, or a business, and people or others you’d like to look after, consider making a will.

    While thinking, talking and planning for death may feel uncomfortable, you need to consider how much worse the situation would be if you died or became incapacitated – through illness, accident, old age or emergency – without sorting it.

    Not making a will can cause months or years of grief for your loved ones. Site user Hollie Bird tweeted us:

    Two years on I’m dealing with the fall out from Mum not having a will! Please get a will!

    There are many specific reasons for writing a will, including:

    If you have children or step-children under 18, you should choose who will look after them and ensure there are funds to help.

    The law doesn’t really recognise this, so don’t expect anything to go to your partner if you don’t make a will.

    You may want to update your will to include what happens to your assets if a previous partner remarries.

  • Pets

    Decide what should happen to family pets.

    If you know what you want your funeral to be like, you can detail it so that your family doesn’t have to make the decisions.

  • Property

    ‘Joint tenant’ mortgages automatically pass to the other owner. If you’ve a ‘tenants in common’ mortgage, it’s important to say what happens to your share of the house. If you own a property overseas, inheritance laws may be different to the UK.

    Update your will when you marry, divorce or have kids.

    If you’re a sole director, it’s possible that if you die without executors, nobody can authorise payments (including to staff), so your business could collapse.

    What does a will do?

    Writing a will has four main functions:

    These are the people who’ll look after the financial process when you die. Try to choose a responsible and trusted friend or relative, who can think clearly in a troubled time.

    Alternatively some name a bank or solicitor, though they often charge monstrous fees (and can add themselves automatically), so make sure you only allow this if you’ve chosen it for yourself.

    They’re also the people who will sort out finances – such as paying off the mortgage and/or other debts out of your estate. Your estate is everything you own at the point you die, including your property, businesses, car, savings, investments, pension fund, life insurance, expensive jewellery, pets and more. (See what happens to debts when you die.)

    One useful tip we’ve seen recently is to even include internet passwords in a separate document to accompany your will so that your executor has access to all of your online accounts.

    Do remember though, you’re under NO obligation to add the writer of your will as an executor, or in fact buy any additional services on top of the writing costs. Some may suggest this, or add it to your will as default, so check.

  • To distribute your estate

    This is where you work out who you want your estate to go to. As explained above, that means everything you own at the point you die, including your property, businesses, car, savings, investments, pension fund, life insurance, expensive jewellery, pets and more.

    Be aware, though, you can’t force people to take what you leave them. Whether it’s a sofa, or a house in negative equity, they don’t have to take it. If a person disclaims a bequest, it goes in with the residue of the estate. This is dealt with under the residuary clause in the will.

    To provide for any surviving children aged under 18

    If you die, responsibility for your children automatically goes to anyone else with ‘parental responsibility’. Mothers automatically have this, with fathers it’s trickier, see table below.

    Fathers and parental responsibility

    Father, any other scenario (eg, child born before 1 Dec 2003, father not named on birth certificate)

    Note: The above information applies to England and Wales. See Gov.uk for info on Scotland, Northern Ireland, same-sex relationships and adoption..

    People with dependent children should make a will to name a guardian(s) for their children, and also to allocate funds to ensure they’re financially supported while growing up (though another signed, witnessed written document will suffice).

    If you don’t make a will, and there is no one else with parental responsibility, the courts will decide what happens to your child in the event of your death.

    To reduce inheritance tax

    If you die intestate (without a will) there are strict laws about to whom and how your estate is distributed (see intestate rules). This causes two problems. First, the money may not go where you want, and secondly, it’s likely to be inefficient for inheritance tax purposes.

    The law says you pay 40% of any assets worth over Ј325,000 that you leave, so those with valuable houses or larger estates could pay a fortune. Yet there are many legal ways you can plan ahead to reduce this.

    A wills law reform may soon make will-writing easier

    The Law Commission, an independent body which takes on projects to reform areas of law, has said current will laws are outdated and need to be overhauled.

    An example of this is that wills are only valid if the person writing it understands what they’re doing – however, the law uses a Victorian test which takes no account of modern medical understanding, eg, it doesn’t reflect what we now know about conditions such as dementia.

    It also wants courts to have the power to recognise a will even if it hasn’t been written under formal guidelines, allow for electronic wills to be made and lower the age people can make a will to 16 (currently it’s 18).

    So the commission launched a consultation with the aim of reforming this and other rules. The consultation closed on 10 November 2017 and the Law Commission is currently analysing the responses.

    Option 1: Free professional wills

    Wills are legal documents, and as small errors can cause big problems, it’s preferable to have someone legally qualified draft it for you. But getting a solicitor to write your will isn’t cheap. Even a simple will could easily cost Ј150 in fees, and you’ll have to pay VAT on top of that.

    However some solicitors have more expertise at will-writing than others, and just because you get it through a charity is no guarantee of quality. Unfortunately it’s not easy to review and assess individual solicitors or will-writers so our primary focus is on cost, not feedback or expertise.

    If you’ve complicated affairs and a will-writing expert is your prime concern, then looking for recommendations and the reputation of individual will-writers or solicitors is the best bet.

    Are you already entitled to one?

    A number of organisations and groups provide wills to limited numbers of qualifying individuals, so check if you’re entitled to one of these first.

    Trade unions and employers

    A number of trade unions, including major ones like the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the NASUWT teachers’ union, the Fire Brigades Union and Unison offer free or heavily discounted will-writing services to their members – so if you’ve got your union card they’re worth checking.

    Alternatively a few employers may offer will-writing as part of their legal services. Check exactly how it works, though. If it’s just filling in a template letter, you may be better with the full solicitor-drafted options below.

    Included in home or car insurance legal cover

    If you opted to get legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, check whether it includes a will service. For example, More Than’s approx Ј20 home insurance add-on legal service allows access to a range of wills and other legal template documents.

    Complete your details and the will is checked by a legal team, who’ll send it back to you for signing.

    Of course, this is only suitable for simple wills. But it’s worth seeing if your insurer offers it.

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    Charity-based schemes

    Many charities offer solicitor will-writing schemes, and these are usually completely free. In return, while you’re not obliged to , they hope you’ll make a donation or bequest (a donation in your will) as part of it. Here’s a list of the main schemes.

    Do remember it is a charity paying for your will, and it may be shelling out Ј100s, so please seriously consider leaving a bequest.

    March is Free Wills Month – in England, Scotland & Wales

    Every March and October it’s Free Wills Month. It offers – as the name suggests – free solicitor-drafted wills. However, you must be aged 55+ to get an individual will, though if you’re getting a ‘mirror will’ as a couple, only one of you needs to be 55+.

    Normally you could pay Ј100 or more (plus 20% of the cost as VAT) for even the simplest will.

    How do I get my free will? You must first complete the form on the Free Wills Month website. It’ll then show solicitors close to you who are taking part (if there are any).

    It’s available in more than 40 locations – to find the one nearest to you, just type your postcode in to the website.

    Is Free Wills Month available in my area this March?

    Solicitors in the following towns, cities and counties are taking part: Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Barry, Berkshire, Blackpool, Bridgend, Buckinghamshire, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Chesterfield, Chichester, Coventry, Crawley, Darlington, Dundee, Eastbourne, Edinburgh, Essex, Fife, Glasgow, Harrogate, Hastings, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lampeter, Liverpool, London, Merseyside, Middlesbrough, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Newport, Northampton, Peterborough, Sheffield, Sunderland, Swansea, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Worthing.

    How can I help the charities that back the scheme? The charities involved pay for the solicitors’ time, so be prepared for your solicitor to ask you to consider making a bequest to a charity in your will (leaving the charity something when you die). The wish is that you will do so, but you’re under no obligation.

    Which charities are sponsoring this scheme?

    The charities vary between locations but the full list of sponsors for March 2018 is: Age UK, Arthritis Research UK, Blue Cross, Breast Cancer Now, British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK, Dogs Trust, Guide Dogs, Marie Curie, Mencap, Mind, National Trust, NSPCC, Prostate Cancer UK, Redwings, RNLI, Royal British Legion, Salvation Army, Stroke Association, Tenovus Cancer Care and Worldwide Cancer Research.

    What if I have complex financial affairs? The scheme covers simple wills – so if your affairs are complex, your solicitor’s likely to ask you to pay a contribution to cover the extra time they spend writing your will.

    Appointments are also limited by the number of wills each solicitor is happy to write under the scheme.

    • Who’s it for? People aged 55 or over
    • When is it? March and October
    • Where is it? England, Scotland and Wales
    • Who writes the will? External solicitor
    • Donation asked for? You’ll be asked to leave money to a charity in your will. But the decision is yours.

    Will Aid – nationwide

    A UK-wide scheme, run every November, Will Aid teams up with over 900 solicitors to provide basic wills. One of its main advantages is it doesn’t impose a minimum age on who can get a will.

    There’s no set fee but Will Aid hopes you’ll make a donation of around Ј95 for a single will (Ј150 for a couple). This is a good price for a solicitor-drafted will (which often costs around Ј150 for a simple will) but of course if you can’t afford it, you can give less, don’t game it though as it is a charity event.

    Just follow three simple steps:

    Put your postcode in the Will Aid website or phone 0300 0309 558 to find your nearest participating solicitor.

    Contact it to arrange an appointment, stating you’re calling as part of the Will Aid scheme. You could then use its will planner to prepare for the meeting.

    Before you go to the appointment, donate via the Will Aid website, and take a print-out of the receipt with you when you go (or you can donate once you’re at the solicitor’s).

    Solicitors do this primarily to help the charities, though of course it does bring in potential new customers as well.

    Usually, this is a very efficient system. However, for a scheme this size there can be the odd glitch, such as appointments filling up quickly. For a discussion on the etiquette of suggested donations and responses, read the full Will Aid discussion on the forum.

    You also get free will registration (to make it easy for your family to find your will) via Certainty National Wills Register.

    Will Relief Scotland

    Each September, Scottish residents can get a will through Will Relief Scotland. This is a partnership between Scottish solicitors and four charities which specialise in development work and the relief of poverty overseas.

    There’s no set fee but suggested donations are Ј80 for a single, Ј120 for a joint and Ј40 to update your will. The donation’s given to the solicitor to pass on to Will Relief Scotland. Find your nearest solicitor on the Will Relief Scotland site or phone 01349 830777.

    The charities are: Mission Aviation Fellowship (in Glasgow), EMMS International (in Edinburgh), Blythswood Care (in Evanton, Ross-shire) and Signpost International (in Dundee).

    • Who’s it for? Everyone who’s a Scottish resident
    • When is it? September
    • Where is it? Throughout Scotland
    • Who writes the will? External solicitor
    • Donation asked for? Suggested donation – Ј80 single, Ј120 joint, Ј40 update (called a codicil)

    Individual charity schemes

    Most individual charities that operate free will-drafting services do it in the hope of a bequest (a donation in your will). This has the advantage that you needn’t pay now, it’ll come out of your estate and it’s inheritance-tax deductible.

    Cancer Research UK

    Over-55s can get a free, simple will drawn up or updated via the Cancer Research UK Free Will Service. You can find your nearest participating solicitor on the charity’s website or by calling their Regional Legacy Team on 0300 123 7733.

    Once you’ve found a solicitor you want to use, call them to arrange an appointment, making sure you mention you’re using the Cancer Research UK Free Will Service.

    Download and complete the Free Will Service Form on Cancer Research UK’s website and take it along to your appointment. The solicitor will then prepare everything for you and once your will is finished and signed they will invoice Cancer Research UK up to a fixed fee.

    The Cancer Research UK Free Will Service is free to you but do think about making a bequest to Cancer Research UK to support their work.

    The Stroke Association

    The Stroke Association offers a free simple will. To get info, either email info@stroke.org.uk, complete the online form on The Stroke Association website or call 020 7566 1505.

    You’ll be sent a free will pack within five working days which will explain details of its free will scheme.

    • Who’s it for? 60+ (or stroke survivors who are 18+)
    • When is it? Limited period. Contact for details.
    • Where is it? Nationwide
    • Who writes the will? External solicitor
    • Donation asked for? You will be asked to leave a gift for the Stroke Association in your will but the decision is yours

    The Children’s Hospital

    The Children’s Hospital Charity (based in Sheffield) has partnered with a national law firm, Irwin Mitchell, to offer a discounted will-writing service that also benefits the charity.

    Contact Irwin Mitchell directly by either calling 0330 1230882 or emailing wills@irwinmitchell.co.uk quoting TCHC to get a standard single will for Ј100 (normally Ј175) or a standard ‘mirror will’ for Ј190 (normally Ј275). Irwin Mitchell donate 20% of the fee you pay to the charity.

    Note that if you have more complex will needs you may have to pay additional costs – but these will be explained to you before you commit.

    • Who’s it for? No restrictions
    • When is it? Ongoing
    • Where is it? Nationwide
    • Who writes the will? Irwin Mitchell solicitor
    • Donation asked for? 20% of discounted fee is donated to the charity

    Other charities

    If you have a particular charity in mind that you’d like to leave a gift to, check with it whether it runs a scheme of its own. There are a number of charities signed up to the National Free Wills Network that also offer free simple wills – usually for charity members and over-55s.

    The charity will usually check that you have donated to them in the past, or are a member, to be eligible for the free will. Each charity’s offering is slightly different so ensure you read up.

    Option 2: Low-cost professional wills

    If the free solicitor writing services above don’t fit, there are a few other low-cost options for making a will. These are usually best where affairs are simple.

    If you use a solicitor-run service, solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and you can also go to the Legal Ombudsman if things do go wrong. Our expertise, of course, is saving money so the following are based on price, not quality.

    Which? codes – Ј84.50 single, Ј129.50 joint

    Via this blagged link, Which?* offers an online will-writing service. Single wills cost Ј84.50 – using code WML3S – and joint (mirror) wills Ј129.50 – using code WML3M. They’re usually priced at Ј169 and Ј259 respectively – but for the discount you have to pay by Sat 31 Mar. The discount is automatically included when you click the Which? link above.

    It has three levels of will-writing services – this is for the premium service but the code makes it cheaper than the other two. It gets you a professionally bound will and a token year of will storage if you want Which? to store it for you – it’s Ј25/year after.

    Which? Wills says this service may not be suitable for those wanting to include a business in the will.

    Once you have bought your will you complete it in your own time (you can call for support on 01992 822803). Its wills specialists will then check and review your will and once it’s approved send you a printed and bound will to sign and send back to it for secure storage (as above, it’s only free for the first year).

    To get the discount, follow the link to buy online.

    • Who’s it for? Everyone
    • Where is it? England, Scotland, Wales and NI
    • Who writes the will? You but the template is then checked
    • Costs: Single Ј169, joint Ј259 (discounts often available, see current discount above)

    Co-op Legal Services – Ј99 single, Ј185 joint

    Via this blagged link, Co-op Legal Services* offers a fixed fee will-writing service. It includes free secure storage, with single wills costing Ј99 and joint or mirror wills for couples costing Ј185 (usually priced at Ј150 and Ј234 respectively) as long as you apply by Sat 31 Mar.

    It’s an online will-writing service with access to a professional will-writer over the phone who will talk you through anything you’re unsure of. Start your will online – you pay for your will when the will-writer calls you back to go over it.

    You’ll then be sent a draft will, when you can change anything that’s not right. While slightly more expensive than the Which? offer above, once you’re happy with it and have signed it, Co-op will store your will for free for life. Co-op Legal Services is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

    To get the discount, follow the link above to buy online.

    • Who’s it for? Everyone
    • Where is it? England and Wales
    • Who writes the will? Co-op Legal Services but you can amend it
    • Costs: Single Ј150, joint Ј234 (not including discounts, detailed above)

    Online solicitors – usually cheapest, but check what service you’re getting

    There are various fixed-fee legal document services that allow you to carry out certain legal processes, including creating a will, solely online.

    You’re usually asked a series of questions to create your document, which will then be sent to a solicitor to check it (including conflict checks and money laundering) and suggest any changes before being sent back to you.

    Rocket Lawyer: While Rocket Lawyer works on a Ј25-a-month subscription basis, the trick is to use its seven-day free trial. Use these free days to create and get your will checked (a 30-min consultation with a qualified solicitor) and you’ll never have to pay a penny, so long as you cancel in time. You can still access your legal document online after the end of your free trial to print and download it but you won’t be able to edit it.

    GlossLegal: Developed by a trust and estates solicitor, GlossLegal charges Ј34.95 for a self-printing single will and Ј89.95 for a bound and posted version for couples.

    ExpertWills: A solicitor in Cambridge offers wills over the telephone (seven days a week until 7pm) via its ExpertWills service. If you quote MoneySavingExpert.com you can get a single will for Ј99 or a ‘mirror will’ for Ј149.

    Local solicitors – find a will-writer near you

    You can find a local solicitor on the Law Society’s database. Or if you need one that provides specialist legal advice for older and vulnerable people, their families and carers, try Solicitors For The Elderly.

    Option 3: DIY wills

    If you’ve very simple circumstances, a ‘template’ will, available from stationery shops or computer software packages, which you complete and fill at home, can be a cheap way to do it.

    Before going further, you must know if you make any mistakes, you won’t benefit from the protection you’d get if a solicitor did it, whether that’s professional indemnity insurance, recourse to the Legal Ombudsman, or various codes of practice from The Society of Will Writers or the Institute of Professional Will Writers.

    Online DIY wills

    Perhaps the best known template is the Lawpack* brand which starts at Ј11.49. Alternatively, the free legal advice site Compact Law has some free-to-download templates.

    There are also templates on several websites where you input your details online and then you’re emailed your will, or sent a copy in the post. Sites include: Online Will Writer (costs Ј29.95, covers England, Wales and Scotland) and Makeawillonline.co.uk (Ј29.50 for one or Ј39.50 for two, covers England and Wales), which is a member of the Society of Will Writers.

    SimpleWills.net*: Complete an online, multiple-choice questionnaire which forms the basis of your will. Pay for it and then download and sign. A single will cost you Ј27 (usually priced Ј38.95) with the code MSE-2017-SW; a mirror will for couples will cost Ј48 (usually priced Ј68.95) with the discount code MSE-2017-MW. Your first rewrite is free with 10% discount off subsequent rewrites/updates. It covers England, Wales and Scotland.

    QWills: A company based in Cardiff offers a subsidised will-writing service in the hope that you’ll leave a legacy to one of the more than eight charities it supports. QWills allow you to make a will online, with a single will costing Ј60 or a ‘mirror will’ costing Ј99.

    Your Will Be Done: A UK company offers an online service called ‘Will for life’ where you make a one-off payment and are able to update your will (for free) as often as needed throughout your lifetime. The will is a template with guidance notes and costs Ј19.97 for a single will or Ј29.97 for a ‘mirror will’. The company gets your will checked by a legal professional which costs Ј25 extra. The wills are written and checked by a member of the Society of Will Writers.

    What do I need to know to do a DIY will?

    There are some basic legal requirements that are needed to make a will and DIYing will mean these rest on your shoulders (remember the potential Inheritance Tax issues too).

    For example, you must be over the age of 18 and have the mental capacity to make a will. It also needs to be dated and witnessed correctly and it must state that it replaces all previous versions (and if there are any, these should be destroyed).

    It’s common for people to make mistakes, such as names of people or charities being misspelled or information about assets being too vague, so be careful and be as specific as possible.

    In anything other than simple cases, as it’s a legal document, a solicitor or qualified will-writer should check it fully to ensure its accuracy and to avoid the chance of it being invalid or contested when you die, which could cost more in the long run.

    Q&A: Wills and inheritance

    How do you store a will?

    Once you’ve created a will, it’s usually stored with a solicitor and you get a copy. Most charge a small fee for this.

    If you’d rather store it yourself, you can just keep it at home but this isn’t really recommended. Instead, you could store it with the Probate Service in England and Wales. There’s a fee of Ј20 to do this, but withdrawing it is free. In Northern Ireland, wills can be deposited with The Probate Office for a fee of Ј33. You can find out more about the various options for storing your will in Scotland on the Citizen’s Advice Scotland website.

    Do debts die with you?

    This is a commonly held myth. While it’s true to an extent, as always with these things it’s a lot more complex than that.

    If you have debts including credit card, loan or mortgage balances, then that amount will come out of your estate before your beneficiaries will get the money. If you don’t have any assets at all then the debts will be written off. Here’s three simplified examples to help explain it.

    This is simple, you’ve nothing to leave and no one has to take the debts.

    Debts Ј40,000, you own a Ј200,000 home.

    Here the debt will need paying or sorting from the estate before the person you left the home to can take it.

    Debts Ј120,000, you own a Ј100,000 home.

    Again for someone to get your home the debts will need clearing. Your beneficiary could choose to pay this to keep hold of the house, but of course it’d mean they’d take on the extra debt. Alternatively they could choose not to take the home.

    For full details on this see the Gov.UK website.

    What about inheritance tax?

    Inheritance Tax is what you (or technically your estate) has to pay if the value of your estate exceeds the government’s threshold, currently Ј325,000 per person.

    However there’s an additional new ‘main residence band’ which complicates this. See our Inheritance Tax guide for a full explainer.

    Anything above this limit is taxed at 40%, so can cost loved ones hundreds of thousands in the event of your death. Yet it’s possible to legally avoid huge swathes of it, or possibly pay none at all.

    Can I leave a will for if I become incapacitated?

    You can, but it’s not the same sort of will. Everyone should consider having something to say who should look after their finances if they become unable to do it themselves; due to dementia, mental illness or being in an accident.

    Writing a Living Will (also called an Advance Decision) means that you can specify the level of medical treatment you’ll receive if you’re incapacitated and can’t communicate at the time. You may, for example, specify not to be resuscitated if your heart stops. This is legally binding.

    Another measure you can take, for example, if you are in the early stages of a degenerative disease is to appoint what’s called a lasting power of attorney. There are two types – one relating to your health, and one to your financial affairs. You can make one type, or both.

    If you’ve no living will or lasting power of attorney, and you become incapacitated, the responsibility for looking after your estate passes to the Government.

    If you’ve nothing in place, your family will need to apply for a court order, which can take months to process, to get back in control of your estate. You can read more on this on our Power of Attorney guide.

    What happens if I don’t leave a will?

    Hundreds of thousands of people die each year without having a will, known as intestacy, making it complex for all family left behind, especially if you are not married.

    If this happens to you, there are strict rules on what will happen to your estate and it could leave someone you want to protect unprotected. What happens depends on where in the UK you live.

    Before we go into it though, it’s important to say, wherever in the UK you live: If you live with someone and you’re not married or in a civil partnership and you don’t have a will – your partner will inherit NOTHING.

    Read on for location specific rules.

    I live in England or Wales

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with no children. Your entire estate will go to your surviving partner, regardless of how much it is worth.

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with children. The first Ј250,000 of your estate will go to your surviving partner. Anything above this amount will be split; half to your surviving partner and half between your surviving children (held in trust for them if they’re under 18).

    I’m unmarried or single with no children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and if they are not alive, it will go to your closest blood relative eg, brother or sister. If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.

    I’m unmarried or single with children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving children.

    We’ve set out how it works below, but the rules are a bit complicated, so for full details see the NI Government website. In short.

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with no children. The first Ј450,000 of the estate and household personal possessions including cars (in England and Wales this counts as part of the estate), will go to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount will be shared among other surviving blood relatives in order of closeness, eg, parents, siblings, half siblings etc.

    I’m married or in a civil partnership with children. The first Ј250,000 of the estate and household personal possessions including cars, will go to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount is called the residue and will be shared between the surviving partner and the surviving children. If there is one child the residue is split in half. If there is more than one child the surviving partner gets a third of the residue. The children split equally two thirds of the residue (regardless if there are two kids or seven).

    I’m unmarried or single with no children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and other blood relatives (in descending order). If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.

    I’m unmarried or single with children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit NOTHING. Your estate will be shared between your surviving children.

    Rules are a little more complicated than for the rest of the UK and are dependent on how much your property is worth, how much you have in cash savings and the value of any furniture you own. Rules are further complicated by whether or not you have any surviving children.

    See HMRC’s rules for more information.

    What can I do if I think a relative’s estate has gone to the Crown?

    The Government’s Bona Vacantia division (BVD) has a list of unclaimed estates which it updates daily. Check if you’re eligible and for the information you’ll need to make a claim on a deceased relative’s estate with the BVD. You have up to 30 years from the date of death to make a claim.

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