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Writing a will – some help getting started

It’s easy to put off writing a will. We all have excuses – ‘I’m still young’ (this body is impermanent), ‘I don’t have anything of value’ (most people are surprised by what their seemingly meagre assets add up to), ‘I’m sure it’ll all be taken care of by my family’ (leaving it up to friends and family to sort out after your death can be complicated and stressful).

Writing a will can be easier than you think. Here is a brief guide to getting started.

Writing a Will Part 1: Where to Start?

Download the Will Planner on our website. First up – figuring out what you have to give. Home, savings, car, pension are often the main things on people’s list. Other things to consider are stocks and shares, insurance and any valuable items. Then comes the less pleasant part – figuring out what you have to owe: outstanding mortgage, loans or overdrafts are often the major considerations.

Hopefully you now feel a bit lighter for having taken stock of what you own and what you owe. Time for a cuppa!

Writing a Will Part 2: Making bequests

Property: If you co-own your property you partner will be the beneficiary of your share of your jointly owned property. If you are co-habiting it is important to have a valid will in place as cohabitees will not automatically have rights. It is a good idea to talk to your solicitor about any complicating circumstances regarding what you would like to happen to your property when you die – for example if you want to create a trust.

Pension: Some pension schemes allow you to name the beneficiaries of your pension through an ‘Expression of Wish’. Since the new laws introduced in April 2015, if you die before the age of 75 no tax will be charged on pension savings left to a beneficiary.

Savings:  If you have substantial savings in an ISA you might want to look into the rules of inheritance and tax more thoroughly.

Valuables: To leave specific items to named beneficiaries is called a specific bequest. ‘I leave my car to my partner and my grandmother’s jewellery to my mother.’ Any other valuable or sentimental items should also be included. If you have any Buddhist art or statues you may want to include these in a specific bequest to a particular person or Buddhist Centre.

It is worth noting that inheritance tax is applicable for money and property if you are an unmarried couple.

Writing a Will Part 3: Naming your Executors

Talking about this does feel scary – as if coming one step closer to the reality that one day we will die, that everyone we know will die, and that in the midst of the grief of loss there will be practicalities to be dealt with. Making a will is a small way in which we can help those we care about during that difficult time after our death, by removing the added complications and confusion that arises when somebody dies without a will.
It is advised that we name two executors in our will. Often people will appoint their solicitor as one. Friends and family can be executors – but it makes sense to choose somebody younger than yourself. Executors should be someone that you trust, and that you consider capable of dealing with the practicalities when you die – it is their responsibility to carry out the instructions of your will.

Writing a Will Part 4: DIY Wills 

The cost of making a will can be off-putting. Writing your own will may be an appealing option; however it is generally advised against, as any mistakes can cause confusion and be costly down the line.
If your will is very straightforward (e.g. if you are married and simply want to leave everything to your partner) then you might wish to look into the option of writing it yourself. There are plenty of templates available for writing your own will.
Another option might be using a will writing service, which is less expensive than using a solicitor but can provide some extra guidance. Some services provide the option to have an expert legal review. Do your research, and go with a service governed by a regulatory body.
Certain legal requirements must be followed to make the document valid. It must be signed, dated and witnessed by two independent witnesses. Be sure to use people’s full names (and spell them correctly!). It must be safely stored – some online services do this for you, but it is a good idea to have a printed copy and to let your executor know where it is being kept.
Deciding to write your own will can be risky, so do make sure to do your research on the subject.

Writing a Will Part 5: Using a Solicitor

Using a solicitor is the most expensive option; but there are some great options for keeping the cost down:
• October is Free Wills Month, offering people over 55 the opportunity to have their wills written or updated for free. The hope is that you will make a donation, or leave a gift in your will, to one of the Free Will Month charities.
• The charity Will Aid runs a campaign each November, and offers you the chance to make a donation to one of the nine participating charities instead of paying the solicitors fee. The suggested donation for a basic will is £95. Will Relief Scotland runs on a similar basis each September in Scotland.
• If you are a member of a Trade Union it is worth checking out if they offer will writing services.

Writing a Will need not be time consuming or expensive, and can in fact be a reflective and liberating process. What better time to do it than now?