How to Write a Will

A guide to writing your will, the things you need to keep in mind and issues you might encounter.

Last updated: 1 August 2019

Signing a will

Photo by Edar on Pixabay

While there has been an increase in recent years of people finding out how to write a will, it’s still recommended that you consult a lawyer at some point in the process, especially if you have a large estate. This article provides some helpful advice and guidelines, but should not be considered legal advice.

Whilst writing your own will is a potentially daunting task, by breaking it down into manageable parts, the process can be more straightforward. We’ve laid out the key points below to help guide you through the process of writing your will.

How do you make a will?

Putting it in the most simple terms, there are two initial steps which are vital in writing a will:

1 - Evaluate the value of your estate

Before writing your will you will need to take a complete inventory of everything you own. That includes: money you have saved, investments you have, property you hold the deeds to, and anything else in your possession that holds monetary value.

This step is the one that’s most likely to be revisited over time. As you get older, your estate might grow if you earn more money or see returns on investments. It may also shrink if you have unexpected expenses or choose to lay out funds on luxuries.

Putting a definitive figure on your estate is a very difficult thing to do ahead of your death. You can choose to regularly update your will with the current value of your assets, or you could potentially avoid this, to a certain extent, if you are more ambiguous when you complete Step 2.

2 - Decide how your estate should be divided

If you have chosen to leave definitive amounts of money or selected assets to a specific person or group of people, you will need to keep your will updated regularly to avoid any assets being unspoken for.

However, if you choose to leave a given proportion of your total assets to each party, then you could potentially update your will less often. For example, If you state in your will that each of your children should receive an equal portion of your estate, the process is relatively straightforward.

In that case, it’s the responsibility of the executor of your will to evaluate your assets at the time of your death and make sure the total value of your estate is distributed evenly amongst your heirs, as per your wishes.

This could potentially lead to disputes regarding the value of assets and the allocation of assets to each heir. When writing your will, you should take into consideration how the distribution of your estate will affect your loved ones.

If, on the other hand, you have allocated specific assets to specific heirs, then ambiguity is removed and it is then the responsibility of your executor to collect and distribute those assets. If you are responsible for this, our guide to managing an estate will provide all of the necessary information.

Should you leave money to charity in your will?

Depending on how much you choose to give, which charities you choose to support and how that amount is to be disbursed, you could avoid having to pay a percentage of the inheritance tax which is levied on estates.

If you have a charity in mind that is close to your heart, you could give them a helping hand in the event of your death, and you could also benefit from reducing inheritance tax by donating to charity.

Who should you choose as your executor?

It is entirely up to you who you choose as an executor of your will and there is no qualification legally required for a person to be an executor. As the role involves collecting, assessing and dividing assets, it’s suggested that your chosen person or people should be comfortable with those tasks.

If you don’t believe you have a friend or relative with the necessary abilities to carry out the role, there are professional services that can be retained for that purpose.

How do you draft a will?

Learning how to write a simple will is relatively straightforward, but for more complex wills it’s advisable to contact a legal representative. Once you have made a full assessment of your assets and decide how you want them to be distributed in the event of your death, you will need a will to be drafted and witnessed.

What a will must contain for it to be valid:

  • A declaration that all other previous wills are void
  • Confirmation that you are of sound mind when creating it
  • Confirmation that you have created it without being pressured to do so
  • The signature of two independent witnesses confirming the validity of the will

This document will have to be checked by legal authorities and notarised for it to be legally binding. Once it has been fully ratified, it will be a definitive guide to how and what your heirs will receive.

If you are unwilling to have a lawyer check your will before it’s finalised, or can’t afford to do so, there are charities that offer free consultation for will writing. They will help you look over this important document and ensure it is legally binding.

How do you finalise, sign and store a will?

The final steps in getting your will finished is to have it signed with independent witnesses present. This step is to confirm that you, in sound mind, are sure that everything in the will is as you want it to be.

It’s advisable to have more than one copy of your will, so if one goes missing or gets damaged, you have a back up. A will should be stored in a safe, but easy to remember place, where they are at minimal risk of fire or water damage.

If you have retained legal services, they will usually be happy to keep a copy of your documents in their files. You could also store a copy in a bank safety deposit box. If you choose this option, be sure to make people aware of the box and where it is located.

How do you write a letter of variation to a will (also known as a codicil)?

A codicil, or a formal notification of amending your will, is similar to the process of writing a will in the first place. It needs to be based on your assets, it needs to be thoroughly checked and it needs to be signed in the presence of independent witnesses.

It is usually recommended that if you want to amend a will, you should amend the will as a whole. However, writing a codicil is a reasonable way of making small amendments without having to resubmit the entire document.

How do you write a living will?

Learning how to write a living will, otherwise known as an Advance Healthcare Directive or Advance Medical Directive, is important if you wish to let medical professionals know what life saving treatments you wish to be carried out on you.

You will need to be sure that your living will is valid, meaning you were fully capable of decision-making and were free from the influence of other people in any way. For it to be used, an Advance Healthcare Directive must be applicable. That means it must be written so that it specifically notes the medical circumstances your wishes refer to, without any room for doubt.

It is important that your family or those involved in your care, are aware and have access to your living will. These include:

  • Your family members
  • Your emergency contacts
  • Your GP
  • Any other party providing your health care

For more help and advice on any end of life topics you can browse our help and resources section. For instance, we have valuable information regarding managing your estate. We also have plenty of information regarding arranging a funeral. For any other funeral queries, a local funeral director might be able to help you face to face or over the telephone and they can be found in our directory of funeral directors.