If you live in England or Wales, you can write your own will – but there are many traps for the inexperienced.
The only way to be 100% sure that your will reflects your wishes and is enforceable by law is to instruct a professional will writer to translate your instructions into legally effective provisions.
First of all, a will is only valid if it is in writing.
You will need to appoint someone to carry out the instructions of the will: this person is called the Executor. He or she will be responsible for administering property or possessions on your behalf.
Next, you need to ensure that the will has been signed by yourself (the Testator), or by somebody else on your behalf under your direction.
Two witnesses must then sign the will in the presence of you, the Testator. The witnesses must be over the age of 18 and fully capable of understanding the nature of what they are doing. They cannot be blind, and they cannot be a beneficiary in the will (or partnered with one of the beneficiaries).
Most of the time, writing a will involves five simple steps.
Steps one through to three are entirely down to you. However, you may need extra help when it comes to calculating inheritance tax costs and exploring the benefits of setting up trusts for beneficiaries who may not yet be ready to receive the assets you have left to them. At this stage, we would highly recommend getting in touch with us for honest, independent advice.
If you are living with a partner and are not married to them, he/she will not be able to keep anything that belongs to you. All of your assets will be distributed according to the law, regardless of how long you have been co-habiting for.
You shouldn’t assume that your spouse will automatically inherit everything. If you were to die without a will, the rules of intestacy will determine who gets your assets and how much of them they receive. The rules say that your spouse, if you have children, gets only the first £250,000, including the value of your house (if the house is worth more than £125,000 this may have to be sold). If you do not have children together, your spouse will get the first £450,000. Beyond that, things become more complicated.
Only if your assets total more than £325,000 will your beneficiaries be liable to pay 40% on everything over this amount. This figure rises to £650,000 if you are a married couple, or a couple in a civil partnership.
You should talk to a professional who is experienced in tax and estate planning, as he or she will be able to give you good advice that will help you minimise exposure to inheritance tax on your death. It is possible to save thousands of pounds through simple measures that can not only be incorporated into your will, but also taken over the course of your lifetime.
This can be a difficult and highly sensitive issue for our clients. Our consultants have many years of practise in handling these delicate matters. We find that each individual case is different and therefore we will always ensure we provide you with the best advice for your personal situation.
Executing a will can be stressful and time-consuming. If you don’t want to leave these duties up to a friend or family member, it is possible to appoint a professional as an executor. Bear in mind, however, that there will normally be a charge for this service.
It is important to review your will whenever there have been changes in family circumstances (for example, births, deaths, disabilities, marriages, separation or divorce), or if there has been a significant change in your wealth, whether an increase or a decrease. But even if no such changes have occurred, there may be changes in income tax or other laws in the interim.
Divorce automatically revokes gifts to a former spouse and removes that person as an executor if he or she was so appointed, unless the will states otherwise. However, if the scheme of distribution in your will contemplates gifts to your ex-spouse, chances are that other changes will be appropriate, and you should therefore not rely on the revocation rule.
Remember too that unless you make a new will, your executor will be obliged to notify your ex-spouse that an application for probate has been submitted to the court, and your former spouse may participate in the proceedings if he or she wishes. They may argue that your will indicates an intention that they should receive bequests under the will, regardless of the divorce.
Separation does not affect your will, even if you have a Separation Agreement which states that your spouse will have no claim against you under your will. You should seek professional advice as soon as you separate from your partner, but do remember that he or she may still have a claim against you under the relevant marital property laws.