What Is a Will, How Does It Work & Do You Need One?

Laura Broad[1]

Laura Broad

Money Savings Advice What is a Will and how does it work

It’s not nice to think about what would happen if you were to pass away. Setting out your wishes on paper can give you peace of mind that everything will end up in the right hands. Making a will is one of the best ways to protect your loved ones after you die.

What Is a Will?

A will is a legally-binding document that sets out your wishes for what you want to happen when you die. It’s a way for you to tell everyone what you want to happen to your estate – your money, property and possessions – when you’re no longer around.

But what exactly is a will, and how does it all work?

Keep reading to get all the nitty-gritty details.

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What Is a Will?

A will is a legally-binding document that sets out your wishes for what you want to happen after you die. It’s primarily a way for you to tell everyone what you want to happen to your estate - your money, property and possessions - when you’re no longer around.

Why Is It Important to Make a Will?

A will is the only way you can make sure your estate goes to exactly who you want it to after you die. Without a will, the law decides who gets what.

There are many situations where it would be better to be prepared should the worst happen.

  • You’re a parent with dependent children. A will allows you to appoint a legal guardian who would take over the care of your children should you die. If you don’t have a will in place, this decision would go down to the family courts.
  • You aren’t married to your partner. If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, your partner isn’t automatically entitled to any of your estate. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together, if it’s not stated in a will, you can’t leave them anything.
  • You want non-blood relatives to be protected. Only spouses or blood relatives can automatically inherit anything from you if you don’t have a will in place. A will allows you to financially protect any step-children or foster children, for example.
  • You have specific wishes for your funeral or burial. If you have particular wishes about how you’d like to be laid to rest, these can be included in your will to save your family from having to make those decisions later on.

There are also plenty of other factors that are important - having someone you trust handling your affairs, saving your family from extra heartache or family disputes, or even having a say in who would look after your pets. All these are benefits of having a will in place.

What Should Be Included in a Will?

Put simply; your will sets out what’s included in your estate, who you want it to go to and who you want to sort out your estate and carry out your last wishes after you die.

Details of the Assets That Make Up Your Estate

This includes everything from houses and cars you own, money in savings accounts and investments, to jewellery and household items. Remember that the value of your estate also takes into account any outstanding debts you have at the time of your death, such as mortgages, credit card balances, bank account overdrafts or loan payments.

Who You Want to Benefit From Your Will

Your will needs to make it clear who you want to inherit what. These people are known as beneficiaries. You can name anyone as a beneficiary; friends, family, or even charities. In your will, you can set out exactly what you’d like them to inherit, whether it’s an amount of money or certain possessions. Your will makes your decision here legally binding.

Who You Want to Sort Out Your Estate After You Die

In your will, you will name an executor. This is the person (or people) you want to deal with the process of distributing your estate after you’ve died. This can be a demanding process, so choose your executor carefully and make sure you ask them about it first. Many people choose a spouse or close family member, but some choose a solicitor as their executor.

Who Will Look After Any Dependent Children

If you have children under the age of 18 or an adult child with a disability where they would still be classed as a dependent, you are able to name a legal guardian in your will.

How Does a Will Work?

When you die, the person you name as the executor will go about making the necessary arrangements, including applying for probate so they can legally take over the process of dealing with your estate. They are then required to follow your wishes as set out in your will.

How Do You Write a Will?

There are a few different ways you can write a will. It’s up to you to decide which option is right for you, so here are some different ways in which you can get a will prepared.

Option 1: Write the Will Yourself

If your circumstances and wishes are straightforward, you can write your will yourself. You’ll be able to find templates at a low cost, but you must make sure your will is legal and valid.

  • Pro: Least expensive option.
  • Con: No legal protection if you make a mistake.

Option 2: Have a Solicitor Write Your Will for You

It’s usually best to get advice from a professional, especially in situations where your will may not be completely straightforward. Having a solicitor prepare your will is recommended where you have a complex family situation, a high-value estate which would require inheritance tax to be paid, or if you own assets overseas.

  • Pro: Legal protections and peace of mind.
  • Con: Generally, the most expensive option.

Option 3: Look Out for Charity Schemes

Some charities offer discounted will-writing by solicitors, asking for a bequest (a charitable donation in your will) in return. You may have to meet certain criteria to be accepted.

  • Pro: You don’t pay anything now, it would come out of your estate.
  • Con: Usually only available during certain campaigns at set times in the year.

Option 4: Use a Will-Writing Service

If you don’t want to pay for a solicitor or wait for a charity scheme to open up, you could consider a will-writing service. Bear in mind that while they are professionals, they aren’t qualified solicitors, and some service providers may not be regulated.

  • Pro: Lower-cost alternative to using a solicitor.
  • Con: Less legal protection than you get when using a solicitor.

When Should You Update Your Will?

Whichever method you choose, be sure to review and update your will after any major change in your life, such as a new child, grandchild or moving house. Also, remember that should you marry or remarry, your existing will is cancelled, and you will need a new one.

What Happens if You Don’t Make a Will?

Dying without a will in place is called ‘dying intestate’. This means that the law takes over dividing up your estate, and controls who gets what and how much they get. This process follows strict rules called intestacy rules and may be different to your personal wishes.

The only way to maintain full control over how your affairs are handled after you die is to have an up-to-date, legally valid will in place.

Do I Need to Use a Solicitor When Drawing Up a Will?

No. If you have a relatively straightforward will then you may not need the services of a solicitor. Alternatively, if your financial affairs are fairly complicated, it would make sense to seek the services of a solicitor. Even if you do decide to draw up your own will, it would be sensible to get a solicitor to look over it ensure there are no potential issues.

What Are the Most Common Mistakes When Writing a Will?

Many people looking to avoid the cost of using a solicitor often experience greater expense further down the line, as a consequence of common mistakes when writing a will. Some of the more common mistakes include:-

  • Limited understanding regarding the formal requirements to make a will legally binding
  • Failure to take account of all assets and liabilities
  • Incorrectly actioned changes to a will
  • A lack of understanding regarding the rights of a spouse/partner, children and wider family members
  • Failure to understand how various parties could challenge a will

It is not difficult to see how just one of these common mistakes could have a serious financial impact on proposed beneficiaries and incur additional legal costs.

Money Savings Advice Tip

If you have a family, a house, mortgage, or assets that will form part of your estate then you need to make a Will to make sure these assets are protected and allocated to the people you want to receive them. Speak to a Will writing specialist who will advise on the best solution for you

How Much Does It Cost to Draw Up a Will?

If you use the services of a solicitor, there will be a charge in drawing up a will. There is no figure set in stone, and the charge will vary from solicitor to solicitor, depending upon the complexity of the individual’s finances and wishes.

Therefore, it is advisable to obtain at least two quotes from solicitors so that you can compare and contrast not only the cost but also what services they offer. It is certainly not advisable to make your choice on cost alone.

What Are the Basic Requirements for a Valid Will?

In order for any will to be valid the following conditions must be met:-

  • The individual is over 18 years of age
  • The will must be written without undue pressure from any other parties
  • The individual must be of sound mind
  • Any will must be made in writing
  • Signed by the individual and witnessed by two parties
  • Witnesses must sign a will in the presence of the individual

Interestingly, witnesses or spouses/partners of witnesses cannot benefit from a will. If any of these parties are named as a beneficiary, they will not be able to inherit any assets from the estate. It is easy to see how this can be a major problem if you are writing your own will but not aware of the legal technicalities.

How Can I Destroy an Existing Will?

On occasion, you may wish to destroy an existing will and replace it with new instructions. This process is simple. The old will must be burnt, torn up or otherwise destroyed by you or in your presence. However, there is still a danger that a copy of the will might emerge in the future and hold legal claim over your estate.

Therefore, when creating a new will, it is sensible to add a clause which revokes all previous wills and instructions. This way even if a copy of an old will was to emerge, it would be invalid in the eyes of the law.

How Can Money Savings Advice Help Protect Your Family & Estate?

Here at Money Savings Advice, we have partnered with some of the UK’s financial brokers. They have already helped thousands of people reduce and remove a high percentage of debt, get the best life insurance deals and get Wills in place to protect their families and estate, and they can do the same for you.

Choosing an independent adviser means they won’t recommend a scheme unless they are sure it is in your best interests. Their advice is also regulated by the FCA, which gives you an additional layer of protection.

If you would like to speak to one of these brokers, then click on the below and answer the very simple questions.


Money Savings Advice Author Laura Broad

Laura Broad

Laura is a professional content writer and learning designer, passionate about empowering people through straightforward, jargon-free content. When she's not reading or writing about all things personal finance, you can find her in the gym, barbell in hand.

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