Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to make a will?
It is important for you to make a will whether or not you consider you have many possessions or much money. It is important to make a will because if you die without a will, there are certain rules which dictate how your money, property or possessions should be allocated.
This may not be the way that you would have wished your money and possessions to be distributed.
Unmarried partners and partners who have not registered a civil partnership cannot inherit from each other unless there is a will, so the death of one partner may create serious financial problems for the remaining partner.
If you have children, you will need to make a Will so that arrangements for the children can such as choosing their guardians be made if either one or both parents die.
It may be possible to reduce the amount of tax payable on the inheritance if advice is taken in advance and a Will is made.
If your circumstances have changed, it is important that you make a will to ensure that your money and possessions are distributed according to your wishes.
For example, if you have separated and your ex-partner now lives with someone else, you should consider changing your Will.
If you are married or enter into a registered civil partnership, this might mean that previous Wills may be contested.
Can I write my own will?
It is generally advisable to have professional Will Writer write your Will with you as they can provide expert advice.
This is because mistakes can cause additional complications, legal costs and disappointment.
If there are errors in your Will, this can cause problems after your death.
Sorting out misunderstandings and disputes after your death may result in considerable legal costs to your spouse and family.
Some common mistakes in making a will are:-
- Not being aware of the formal requirements needed to make a will legally valid.
- Failing to take account of all of your money and property in your Will.
- Failing to take account of the possibility that a beneficiary or executor may die before the testator.
- Changes in your Will. Alterations should be signed by the testator and properly Witnessed.
- Failing to account for marriages, new births, Civil partnerships, dissolution of a civil partnership or divorce in your Will.
- Being unaware of the rules which exist to enable dependents to claim from the estate if they believe they are not adequately provided for. These rules mean that the provisions in the will could be overturned or challenged causing costs, time and disappointment.
What should be included in a will?
To save time and reduce costs when going to a solicitor, you should give some thought to the major points which you want included in your will. You should consider such things as:
- How much money and what property and possessions you have. For example, property, savings, occupational and personal pensions, insurance policies, bank and building society accounts and shares.
- Who you want to benefit from your will. You should make a list of all the people to whom you wish to leave money or possessions. These people are known as beneficiaries. You also needs to consider whether you wish to leave any money to charity.
- Who should look after any children under 18.
- Who is going to sort out the estate and carry out your wishes as set out in the will. These people are known as the executors (see below).
What are executors?
Executors are the people who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and for sorting out the estate. They will have to collect together all the assets of the estate, deal with all the paperwork and pay all the debts, taxes, funeral and administration costs out of money in the estate. They will need to pay out the gifts and transfer any property to beneficiaries.
Who to choose as executors
It is not necessary to appoint more than one executor although it is advisable to do so, for example, in case one of them dies. It is common to appoint two, but up to four executors can take on responsibility for administering the will after a death. The people most commonly appointed as executors are:
- Relatives or friends
- Solicitors or accountants
In England and Wales, the Public Trustee or in some cases the Official Solicitor if there is no one else willing and able to act.
It is important to choose executors with considerable care since their job involves a great deal of work and responsibility. You should always approach anyone you are thinking of appointing as an executor to see if they will agree to take on the responsibility. If someone is appointed who is not willing to be an executor, they have a right to refuse.
If an executor dies, any other surviving executor(s) can deal with the estate. If there are no surviving executors, legal advice should be sought.
Requirements for a valid will
In order for a will to be valid, it must be:
- Made by a person who is 18 years old or over.
- Made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person.
- Made by a person who is of sound mind. This means the person must be fully aware of the nature of the document being written or signed and aware of the property and the identify of the people who may inherit; and in writing.
- Signed by the person making the will in the presence of two witnesses.
- Signed by the two witnesses, in the presence of the person making the will, after it has been signed. A witness or the married partner of a witness cannot benefit from a will. If a witness is a beneficiary (or the married partner or civil partner of a beneficiary), the will is still valid but the beneficiary will not be able to inherit under the will.
Although it will be legally valid even if it is not dated, it is advisable to ensure that the will also includes the date on which it is signed.
As soon as the will is signed and witnessed, it is complete.
If someone makes a will but it is not legally valid, on their death their estate will be shared out under certain rules, not according to the wishes expressed in the will.
For more information about the rules if someone dies without leaving a valid will in England and Wales, see Who can inherit if there is no will – the rules of intestacy.
Where to keep a will
Once a will has been made, it should be kept in a safe place and other documents should not be attached to it. There are a number of places where you can keep a will:
- At home (Not Recommended) – Storing a will at home holds the risk that it could be lost or damaged, or potentially be tampered with.
- With a solicitor (Not Recommended) – Storing a will with solicitor can be very expensive. Additionally, many would also expect to do the probate which can increase the cost even further.
- At a bank (Not Recommended) – (Same as Solicitor)
- Kings Court Trust Corporation (Recommended) – Kings Court provide our clients with a cost effective and flexible storage option. Wills can also be changed as many times as you need without any additional charges.
Change of circumstances
When a will has been made, it is important to keep it up to date to take account of changes in circumstances. It is advisable for you to reconsider the contents of a will regularly to make sure that it still reflects your wishes. The most common changes of circumstances which affect a will are:
- Getting married, remarried or registering a civil partnership.
- Getting divorced, dissolving a civil partnership or separating.
- The birth or adoption of children, if you wish to add these as beneficiaries in a will.
How to change a will
You may want to change your will because there has been a change of circumstances. You must not do this by amending the original will after it has been signed and witnessed. Any obvious alterations on the face of the will are assumed to have been made at a later date and so do not form part of the original legally valid will.
The only way you can change a will is by making a codicil to the will or a writing new will.
A codicil is a supplement to a will which makes some alterations but leaves the rest of it intact. This might be done, for example, to increase a cash legacy, change an executor or guardian named in a will, or to add beneficiaries.
A codicil must be signed by the person who made the will and be witnessed in the same way. However, the witnesses do not have to be the same as for the original will.
There is no limit on how many codicils can be added to a will, but they are only suitable for very straightforward changes. If a complicated change is involved, it is usually advisable to make a new will.
Making a new will
If you wish to make major changes to a will, it is advisable to make a new one. The new will should begin with a clause stating that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. The old will should be destroyed. Revoking a will means that the will is no longer legally valid.
Destroying a will
If you want to destroy a will, you must burn it, tear it up or otherwise destroy it with the clear intention that it is revoked. There is a risk that if a copy subsequently reappears (or bits of the will are reassembled), it might be thought that the destruction was accidental. You must destroy the will yourself or it must be destroyed in your presence. A simple instruction alone to an executor to destroy a will has no effect. If the will is destroyed accidentally, it is not revoked and can still be declared valid.
Although a will can be revoked by destruction, it is always advisable that a new will should contain a clause revoking all previous wills and codicils. Revoking a will means that the will is no longer legally valid.