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What to include in your will

4 min read

What to include in your will
A will is a legally binding document, but it must meet certain criteria in order to be valid and enforceable by a court. We explain what your will needs to include to be valid and what instructions you can leave for your estate or family.

What can you leave in your will?

Within your will, you can explain who should inherit your assets after you die, name a guardian for your children, leave instructions for your funeral and set up trusts to provide for your family financially.
You can also name an executor (or several executors) who will administer the estate and carry out your last wishes.

Is your will valid?

There aren't any rules on the structure of your will, and in theory, you could write it on any piece of paper.
However, for it to be valid in England and Wales, it needs to be witnessed and signed by two independent adults and dated. In Scotland, you'll need it to be signed and dated by one witness.
These witnesses cannot inherit anything from your will or benefit from your will in any way (although they can act as executors).
Your will should also name your executors, who are authorised to gather in your assets and divide them up according to your instructions - a process known as probate. The executor can be a beneficiary from your will (provided they are not also a witness).
Before you make a will, you'll need to work out which assets you own and who you'd like to benefit from your estate.
You can use our tool to plan out your wishes, to make it simpler to write a will and to ensure you haven't missed anything important.
Download the Which? wills planner here.

Bequests and assets in your will

One of the most important aspects of your will is deciding how your assets will be distributed among your family, friends or charities.
When leaving assets in your will, you can specify which person or organisation should receive which asset (known as specific legacies or bequests). Specific legacies can include the obvious, such as a property, or family heirlooms, but could be more abstract too - for example, a sentimental keepsake or the contents of a bank account.
You can also leave people a share of the total value of your remaining estate - known as the 'residue' - or whatever remains from certain assets.

Leaving property in your will

Your home is generally the largest asset you'll leave behind. Whether it can be passed on in your will depends on how you own it.
If you own the home outright, you can gift it in your will, and the title will pass to that person when you die. Consider that any mortgage or charge connected to the property will pass with it, unless you state otherwise in your will.
It's more complex if you own the property with someone else.
Keep in mind that your spouse shouldn’t have to pay inheritance tax on any assets that they inherit and your estate may benefit from a lower inheritance tax bill if you leave your home to a direct descendant, such as a child or grandchild. You can find out more in the Which? guide to inheritance tax on property.
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Overseas property or assets

If you own property or assets overseas, it's important to seek legal advice, ideally from someone with expertise in the local jurisdiction. That's because some countries have very different rules to the UK, so your will may not automatically be valid in those places.

Providing for children in your will

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If you care for children under 18, your will should set out who will become their guardian if both parents die. If you don't, the family courts will be left to decide who should raise your children. It's worth speaking to the guardians in advance to confirm that they would be willing to take in your children.
If children inherit money or property, it's held in trust until they turn 18 (or until they get married, if earlier). You can set out instructions for how the trust is to be managed. If you have adult children, the default position is that they will receive any inheritance outright, provided they are over the age of 18.
For more information on will writing for new parents, see the Which? guide

Supporting charities in your will

Many people choose to leave some of their estate to charity when they pass away.W
Aside from supporting a cause you believe in, there can be tax advantages to giving your money away. If you leave more than 10% of your estate to charity, then the inheritance tax rate on your remaining estate will fall from 40% to 36%.
The charity must be UK registered to qualify. The same tax break applies if you leave money to a university, political party or community sports club.

Digital assets and online accounts

Nowadays, your estate will probably not just include physical and financial assets, like money in the bank. Digital assets, such as photographs, music and films you've bought online may also form part of your possessions. You may wish to specify who owns these once you pass on.
If you have social media accounts, you can also request specific people to delete or take these over on your behalf.

Instructions for your funeral

People often opt to include a paragraph in their will specifying their wishes for their funeral and the disposal of their body - for example, whether you'd like to be buried or cremated, where your remains should be buried or scattered, and your views on organ donation.
These instructions aren't legally-binding, as your executors have decision-making power over your funeral and remains. But last wishes will usually be followed, and can spare your love ones difficult decisions at a distressing time.
The Which? online service is easy to use and full of guidance and advice, what is more, as a Reader's Digest customer, you can purchase any will writing service with 20% off
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