What do I need to do to write a will?

Making a will is your opportunity to make sure that the people and charities you choose will benefit from your estate, so it is worth taking the time to think through what you want and to ensure that your will is legal and valid.

Plan what's being left, and to whom

  • Make a list of who you want to include in your will. You might want to include your partner or spouse, children and other family members, friends and charities. These people (or charities) are called your beneficiaries.
  • Write down your assets. Things like your savings, any property you own and any valuable items - and a rough idea of what they’re worth. You should also think about any sentimental items that you might want particular people to have.
  • Think about how you want to split your assets between the people you’ve listed. You may find it helpful to think about what’s important to you. For example it might be things like making sure that your partner is provided for, or ensuring that your grandchildren get the best education.

Thinking about these things will make it easier to work out what to leave to whom. Will Aid, which is a partnership between the legal profession and nine UK charities, has a will planner that you can use to help you. 

Plan your will

Getting professional advice

One of the most common areas people need advice on is inheritance tax. The Inheritance Tax threshold is currently £325,000 for an individual or up to £650,000 for a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership. If your estate is worth more than this when you die, Inheritance Tax (currently 40%), will have to be paid on the excess. The rules aren’t straightforward. If you think you’re near the limit you need to get more information on how to legally avoid it or minimise the amount – which could save thousands of pounds.

You’ll probably want to get professional advice to help with this. The rules around Inheritance Tax can change – up to date information can be found on GOV.UK website.

Choose your executors

The person who sorts out your property when you die and carries out the instructions in your will is called your executor. It can be a complicated job even if your instructions and your property are quite simple – it’s not unusual for the process to take several months and the job of an executor is sometimes difficult. For example, they might have to decide when to sell your property so that the people who inherit the money from its sale get the most money.

You can appoint up to four executors, but people normally appoint two, in case one is unwilling or unable to act for you when the time comes. An executor may also be a beneficiary in your will, so you can choose your partner or children (providing they are 18 years old). There may be advantages of using somebody who is familiar with your affairs, but a solicitor can also do this if you’d like to save the people close to you the job at what is likely to be a difficult time.

It is always good to check with whoever you plan to name as your executor that they are happy to take on the job. In case you were thinking of asking us, Sue Ryder cannot act as executor.

There is more advice on choosing an executor on the Money Advice Service website.

There are a number of ways you can draw up your will

Use a solicitor

The more complex your financial affairs, the more sensible it is to take advice from a solicitor. Using a solicitor may be cheaper than you might think, and it means that you have peace of mind of knowing it's been done properly. You should definitely consider using a solicitor if your family position is complicated.

You might need a solicitor if:

  • your estate may have to pay Inheritance Tax (currently, you’ll have to pay if your estate’s value is more than £325,000)
  • you’ve got a complex family situation, like former partners or estranged children, and you want to be sure how your estate can be divided
  • you want to protect someone’s interests after you’ve gone, like a disabled family member,
  • or you want to talk through the options with an expert or you need some support you can trust.

If you already have a solicitor they will often come out to you at home or in the hospice to help you write your will.

Otherwise you might ask a friend for a recommendation or you can search the Law Society database for a solicitor near you.

Use a will-writing service

A will writing service is usually cheaper than a solicitor and, depending on the service you use, you can do it online, face-to-face or by post. Not many will writers are fully legally qualified, so if you do use a will-writing service it is best to check that they belong to the Institute of Professional Willwriters or Society of Willwriters.

Members of these organisations must have training, be insured to cover legal costs if your will is challenged, and follow a code of practice.

Free Wills Network

If you’re a Sue Ryder supporter aged over 55 or a Sue Ryder volunteer, staff member, patient or Online Community member of any age, you can make your will for free.

As a member of the National Free Wills Network, Sue Ryder is able to offer you and your partner the opportunity to make a simple single or joint will with a qualified solicitor, free of charge.

There is no obligation whatsoever to include a gift to Sue Ryder in your will. However, we’d be delighted if you chose to remember our charity or a specific Sue Ryder hospice, knowing that your kindness will go on to touch the lives of many people through the care, compassion and expertise we deliver each day.

Find out more about our Free Wills Service.

Do it yourself

The riskiest way to write a will is to do it yourself, and we do not recommend this as an option. Possible consequences of getting it wrong include that the will might be invalid or not have the effect intended. The only time you might choose to do this is if your affairs are very simple – for example if you’re married or in a civil partnership, you have no children, and you want to leave everything to your spouse or civil partner when you die.

But you should remember that the law about inheritances and how they’re taxed can be complex, and things might change between you writing your will and when you die. That makes it risky to write your own will without any advice at all. If you choose to do this, you can find templates to help you online.

If you are getting support from a family support team and/or social worker they can normally help you think through what support you might need to draw up your will.

There is also more detailed advice on how to draw up your will on the Money Advice Service website.

Keep your will safe

You can keep your will at your home or you may well be able to store it with your solicitor or bank. There are also companies that store wills – you can search for these online. If you decide to keep your will at home, make sure you tell your executor (the person you’ve chosen to carry out your will), close friend or relative where your will is. If you have updated an existing will (other than by creating a codicil - see below) or replaced one, you should destroy all the copies of the old will, to avoid any confusion or problems.

Can a will be changed?

If you already have a will, you may well need to review it, particularly if there have been any major changes in your life such as:

  • getting separated or divorced
  • getting married (this cancels any will you made before you were married)
  • having a child
  • moving house
  • if the executor named in the will dies

If you already have a will and want to make some small changes – such as making a specific gift to a person or organisation – 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 creating a codicil, which is a legally binding document that alters or adds to your existing will. A codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same way as a full will to make it legal.

If you want to make substantial changes, it is better to create a new will. A new will normally include 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 you do write a new will, make sure that you destroy any copies of your old will to avoid any confusion or problems.