A will can be made on any sheet of paper and follow any format, provided it is signed by you and witnessed as required by the law. But an invalid will, or one with conflicting instructions, could be challenged in court. This can cause family conflict, and inflict the stress and expense of a lawsuit on your loved ones. We explain how to make a will that's legally-binding, and how much you could expect to pay.
If you're planning to write a will, you can choose whether to do it yourself or seek help from a professional. The right option for you will depend on how complex your affairs are, how much assistance you're likely to need and your budget.
Do I need witnesses to my will?
The original version of the will must be signed by you, your witnesses, and free from errors or changes.
The witnesses must watch you sign the will in person. If one of them is out of the room when you sign, your will risks being found invalid.
In England and Wales, you must have two witnesses over 18, while in Scotland, you require one over 16.
Witnesses cannot inherit anything as beneficiaries, although they can be named as executors. If your will leaves anything to a witness, the whole document could be invalid.
How to choose an executor
Executors are people that carry out your wishes in accordance with your will.
It's best practice to name more than one executor (or one executor and a substitute). These can be anyone you trust, but it's most common to pick a friend, relative or solicitor.
It is also a good idea to think about the practicalities. For example if you have two children who do not see eye-to-eye appointing them together may no be a good idea.
Similarly it might be difficult for an executor to deal with your estate if they live overseas.
What can I leave in my will?
Your will can cover a large scope of situations, from who will inherit your assets to who will look after your children.
Before writing your will, it's worth identifying all the assets you own, as well as any sentimental items you'd like to leave to loved ones. You should also work out arrangements for your children's care, and consider whether you'd like to leave specific instructions for your funeral.
You can find out more in our guide: What to put in your will.
Include a residual gift
No matter how thorough your will is, there's likely to be part of your estate that isn't accounted for. As such, it should include a 'residuary gift', that sets out who will inherit anything not otherwise given away by the will.
This clause can also be useful if, for example, one of the heirs you name dies before you do.
If the will doesn't have a residuary gift, the remainder of the estate will be divided up according to the laws of intestacy.
Avoid challenges to validity
There should be nothing amended or crossed out in the document that you sign.
If you want to change your will at a later date, you'll need to make a codicil or a new will. A codicil is an additional document setting out any changes you'd like to make, signed and witnessed in the same way as your will (though not necessarily by the same people).
It might be worth considering if there is someone who might expect to inherit from you when you die, and be named in your will. If you decide not to include this person, writing a letter to your executor explaining why would be helpful. But be mindful, this document (as well as the will) may one day become a public document, so try to keep factual where possible.
Make sure the instructions you leave are easy to understand and follow, as you won't be around to explain your reasoning.
When putting together the document, don't leave blank spaces, and make sure each page is numbered to prevent anyone tampering with your will.
How much does it cost?
Whether you go to a solicitor, will writer or bank, simple wills start from about £80 and go up to several thousand pounds, depending on the complexity of your affairs
If you and a spouse or partner want substantively the same wills - known as mirror wills - you'll usually get a discount for writing both at once.
Exclusive Reader Offer: If you are making a will and want support, as a Reader's Digest customer, you can write one with Which? and get a 20% discount.
Read more: Reasons for making a will
Read more: Ways to reduce Inheritance tax
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