How to make a will
Who will sort everything out if you die?
If you don’t leave a will, the law will also appoint someone to sort out your estate and organise your affairs. This may not seem important, but it can be. This person also has the right to organise your funeral.
The law does not recognise an unmarried partner, and instead this right will go to your husband or wife, if you have one (even if you are separated but not divorced).
If you are not married, your adult children or adult grand-children will be given the job. If your only children are under the age of 18, their other parent might be given the job (even if you are no longer together). Alternatively, itt will be your parents, or if they have died your brothers or sisters, or half-brothers and sisters.
After that, come your grandparents, your aunts and uncles (not by marriage), or their children if you have no aunts and uncles.
If you have no relatives at all, the state will sort out your affairs.
Having the right to organise your affairs is a very different thing to inheriting from you.
DIY or solicitor?
Once you have decided you need a will you must then decide who will make it. You have three options: you can go to a solicitor, to a will writing company (perhaps via the internet), or you can do it yourself.
If you are considering a D-I-Y will you must assess, as honestly as you can, how complicated it will be and whether you are likely to be able to do it without help. Will it be like putting up shelves or installing a new central heating system? You wouldn't have an unqualified person install a central heating system in your house. But you might be capable of putting up a shelf yourself. Some people, however, should never pick up a hammer!
Judge your needs and will making abilities in the same way. If you have complicated circumstances to deal with involving different families, a large estate that may be liable to inheritance tax, or an ex-husband or wife still receiving maintenance, you should almost always pay someone else to prepare your will. If you want to leave everything to your partner, it might be fairly simple. If you decide to do it yourself you must make sure you understand what is needed.
Many solicitors warn against the dangers of making your own will. One lawyer describes making your own will as "like taking a razor blade to your own appendix". The advantage of using a solicitor is that they can discuss your circumstances and explain the best way to achieve your wishes, in a tax efficient way. They must also carry indemnity insurance in case they get something wrong. A good will writing service may be able to do the same, but you should check that they have indemnity insurance. If you write your will yourself, the first time any mistakes will be spotted will probably be after you’ve died - when you can no longer put them right, or explain what you meant.
Whichever route you take, you will be in a stronger position if you understand the issues. Before you make an appointment or open your will-making kit, read the rest of this chapter and use the checklist to help you think through what you want to do.
Unmarried couples do not have the exemption that allows married couples or those who have registered a civil partnership to pass any amount of money or assets to one another without having to pay Inheritance Tax. Instead Inheritance tax has to be paid on anything above the nil-rate band (£325,000 for 2009-10, and £350,000 for 2010-2011). Add up the value of everything you own, including your share of things you own jointly with your partner. If it comes to over £300,000 you need to think about ways to minimise your tax liability. Read our separate Inheritance Tax guide (333 KB), and seek specialist help.
Who can you pay to write a will for you?
Solicitors mostly charge a flat fee for preparing a will, and often offer a “mirror will” package that writes a will for you and one for your partner, and costs less than doing them separately.
Some solicitors will charge in the region of £150 to do a straightforward will, but if your circumstances are complicated and you need help with tax planning, it will usually cost more because the job will take longer. Bigger firms usually have higher charges.
Look in the Yellow Pages under Solicitors. Most firms say what they do in their entry. Don’t be afraid to compare prices - ring several companies and ask for quotes. In order to get an accurate quote you will need to explain how simple or complicated your will will be.
Will writers will usually charge a flat fee for a will. The standard of these organisations varies considerably. Most are competent but you need to be sure what happens if they get it wrong or fail to point out a problem. They are not always cheaper than solicitors and they don't have to carry indemnity insurance, which is compulsory for solicitors. Some companies make their money by persuading you to appoint them (or an associated firm) as your executors.
Some banks also advertise their will writing services. They hope that they will be able to persuade you to appoint them as your executors. This is because they will charge you a large fee for their services as executors as well as for writing the will. Be wary of banks.