A will is a legal document you create that sets out instructions for who will inherit your estate and what should happen after you die. It includes what sort of funeral you would like, how you would like your possessions to be distributed, as well as other wishes, like who should bring up your children, if you have them.
Sometimes known as your last will and testament, it's a legally-binding document - but if you don't prepare it properly, it may not be valid.
You are free to write your will yourself, but if you have a complicated estate, or simply want help, you can enlist the support of a solicitor or expert will-writer.
As many as 60% of people don't have wills, by some estimates. If you die without one, your estate will be distributed according to strict rules, meaning the people you care about may lose out.
Top reasons for needing a will:
Ensure your family is provided for financially
As well as saying who will raise your children, you can make plans to provide for their future financially. This might include putting aside money for their education, making sure they receive a set amount each year for clothing or hobbies, or establishing a nest egg to buy a home.
You may wish to consider setting up a trust to provide for your children, as this gives you an element of control over when your children receive the money, and what it gets used for.
There are two ways to set up a trust: you can either establish it while you are still alive, or leave instructions for it to be established when you pass away.
Find out more: will writing for new parents
Protect your partner if you're unmarried
Unmarried partners aren't entitled to anything from your estate unless specifically stated in your will - no matter how long you've been together.
Writing a will ensures your partner will receive their fair share of your estate.
Safeguard your family home
If the family home is in your name, your unmarried partner and step-children aren't automatically in line to inherit it if you die without a will - meaning they may lose their home.
You can leave them a share of the property in your will, or a right to reside in the property.
Head off family disputes
Dividing up an estate can sadly sometimes lead to squabbles and arguments among your survivors if there is no will or your wishes aren't made clear.
Contested wills can be damaging to relationships among your family, and can also be expensive if decisions about your estate are legally contested.
A well-prepared will can help avoid these arguments, and avoid making your passing even more stressful for your survivors.
Say who you want to look after your pets
If you have dogs, cats, or any other pets, they may also need to be looked after if you pass away.
A handful of dogs have inherited fortunes, such as German Shepherd Gunther IV, who received a nine-figure sum from his deceased owner in 1992. But it's more common to choose someone to look after them, and put some money aside to feed them and look after their health.
Pay less inheritance tax than you might have to
The amount of inheritance tax that will be charged from your estate depends on how much you have, and also who you leave it to.
Anything left to your spouse or civil partner should be automatically exempt from inheritance tax.
Find out more: Inheritance tax: thresholds, rates and who pays
Are you planning to make a will? As a Reader's Digest customer, you can use any of Which?'s will writing services and get a 20% discount
Read more: How do I make a will?
Read more: Ways to reduce Inheritance tax
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