How to write or alter your will
Making a will is extremely important, and can be easier than you think.
We strongly advise you to see a solicitor before actually making or changing your will. This guide contains only general advice. Your tax and financial situation is unique to you, and a solicitor will be able to offer advice that is tailored to fit.
For an explanation of the legal terms used here, and for further information, please see:
Will FAQS: your questions answered
Writing your will
Choosing a solicitor
If you don’t have a solicitor, the names and addresses of local practices can be found through the Law Society or in Yellow Pages, public libraries and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Or, you may prefer to choose one through the personal recommendation of friends or family.
What will it cost?
The cost will depend upon how complex your affairs and wishes are, but may not be as expensive as you think. You can always request estimates from solicitors with no commitment.
A regular review is important. Our lives change constantly - births, deaths, marriages, divorce, retirement, property sales and purchases can all have an enormous impact on the value of your estate and the way you wish to leave it.
We recommend that you review your will every few years to see how any changes have affected it, and to be sure that it continues to reflect your intentions.
Alternatively, you can contact us and we will be happy to obtain an impartial list from the Law Society for you.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or freephone 0808 164 4572.
Estimating the value of your estate
It’s a good idea to work out the approximate value of your estate so that you can decide on specific bequests and avoid overlooking any important items. Your solicitor will also need to know the value so that any Inheritance Tax implications can be taken into account and explained (bear in mind that Inheritance Tax may vary from year to year).
Deciding who should benefit
Ask your solicitor for advice on inheritance tax, transfer of title and other legal factors as this will help you decide how best to divide up your assets. For example, you may have children or grandchildren to consider. There may be other relatives or close friends you would like to leave something to.
If you have had personal experience of a charity, or simply admire what they do, you can help ensure they are able to support others in the future by including a gift. Your solicitor will remind you that gifts to charity will help to reduce the burden of inheritance tax on the remainder of your estate.
You can appoint a maximum of four executors and it is recommended that you should appoint at least two. Their role is to ensure that your wishes are carried out. An executor may also be a beneficiary in your will, so you can choose your spouse or children (providing they are over 18 years old).
Witnessing your will
When your will has been prepared, it must be signed and witnessed. You must have two independent witnesses, and each of them must sign in the presence of you and the other witness. The name, address and occupation of witnesses should be recorded with their signature. But please note that your witnesses should not be beneficiaries under your will because any gifts to them will become invalid.
Legal differences in Scotland
Scotland has its own legal system and will-writing requirements. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on the different rules that apply to wills in Scotland.
Changing or replacing your will
The cost of making a will
There are no fixed rates for making a will, and you should ask your solicitor for a quotation before proceeding to make one.
A regular review of your will is important as our lives change constantly, which will affect the value of your estate and the way you wish to leave it. We recommend that you review your will every few years to see how any changes have affected it and to be sure that it continues to reflect your intentions.
Changing your existing will
If your planned changes are small – such as making a specific legacy – it may not be necessary to change the whole document. It is wise to consult your solicitor, but you may be able to record any changes by adding a codicil.
Please note that any codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same way as a full will to make it legal.
If you would like to receive a codicil form, please email email@example.com or call 0808 164 4572, stating which country you live in.
Cancelling an existing will
You can cancel or ‘revoke’ a will, but this is not necessary if you are replacing it with a new one. A new will normally includes wording that cancels all previous wills with words such as ‘I hereby revoke all previous wills, codicils and testamentary provisions made by me at any time and declare this to be my last will.’
If the total value of your estate is over £325,000 (the current inheritance tax threshold, also known as the “nil rate band”), your beneficiaries will have to pay 40% inheritance tax on the amount over £325,000, although there is an exemption for gifts left to a surviving spouse or civil partner. This means that if your estate is worth over £325,000, your beneficiaries will only keep £6,000 out of every extra £10,000 over and above £325,000 that you leave. However, legacies to registered charities are tax-exempt and are deducted from your estate before any tax liability is calculated.
The nil rate band is expected to remain frozen at £325,000 until at least April 2021.
From 6 April 2012, anyone leaving 10% or more of their estate to a charity will have any part of their estate which remains subject to Inheritance Tax after deduction of the charitable gift taxed at 36%, rather than 40%.
With effect from 6 April 2017, where a person dies leaving their main place of residence (or equivalent assets where they have downsized to a smaller property) to a direct descendant (i.e. child or grandchild etc) their estate will receive an additional nil rate band of £100,000. The level of this additional nil rate band is currently intended to rise in annual instalments to £175,000 by 2021. However, it only applies to legacies of residential property to direct descendants and not to other relatives (such as siblings, nephews/nieces etc).
I’m married - is my tax allowance different?
Married couples and civil partners can combine their tax allowances. This doesn’t raise the inheritance tax threshold to £650,000, but it allows the surviving spouse or civil partner to benefit from any unused portion of their spouse or partner's allowance.
Once introduced, any unused part of the additional nil rate band for gifts of residential property will also be transferrable to a surviving spouse in the same way.
The above information is basic general guidance only and should not be treated as professional advice. Inheritance tax is a complex topic and each individual's tax situation is different, so we always recommend consulting with your solicitor when making any changes to your will.
Stay up to date with changes to inheritance tax via HMRC
Safeguarding your will
Accidental loss of your will
If you lose your will it would still be considered legally valid until you executed a new one. Most people ask the solicitor who drew up their will to keep the original and give them a copy.
Safeguarding your will
It is not necessary to register your will with any authority. However, you should make sure it is kept in a safe place (together with any codicils) and let your executors know where it is so that they can find it swiftly in the event of your death.
You may find it helpful to ask your solicitor to retain the original version of your will and provide you with a copy.