How to write a will

A little girl (aged around 2) facing the camera. She is sitting on her mother's lap, with her father hugging them both from behind.
Hayley Tearall

Digital Content Producer

Is it the right time for me to write a will? What happens if I don’t? How do I even go about writing a will? 

If you’ve been asking yourself these questions (or even if you haven’t), here’s why it’s time for you to write a will, and how you can write yours for free.

Should I write a will?

How do you know if you should write a will? Well, anyone over the age of 18 can write a legal will (and under 18s who are on active military service). Lots of people leave writing a will until later in life, when they start thinking about the future and the legacy they want to leave behind, but there’s no reason why you should wait until you’re a certain age.

It’s never too early to write a will. Writing a will is the only way you get to choose what happens to your estate (that’s your money, property, possessions and investments) when you die.

Even if you’re not a homeowner, and you don’t have loads of stuff’, writing a will gives you the chance to decide who you’ll pass on the things that matter to, or who you’d like to receive the money that you do have.

You also get to pick someone you trust to be your executor’. They’ll be the one(s) responsible for distributing your things to the people you’ve named to receive things (beneficiaries).

A will is a way to make sure those you love are taken care of no matter what. As well as providing for your family, writing your will is also an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by giving a donation to a cause you care about.

What happens if I don’t write a will?

If you don’t have a will when you die, there are intestacy rules’ which determine who will get what. For example:

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, without children: your partner gets everything.

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, with children: your partner gets your personal items + the first £27,000 of your estate + half of whatever is left. Your children get the other half of what’s left.

If you have children, and have no legal spouse or civil partner, your children will get everything. It’ll be split between them equally.

If you’re not married or in a civil partnership, your partner will not get anything automatically, even if you have children.

If you don’t have a partner or children then other family members might inherit your estate, such as parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews.

It’s also important to have a will to make known who you’d like to be the legal guardian for your children if you die. If you’re not married, guardianship might not automatically go to your partner, or the courts may decide who is the most suitable person to look after your kids. 

If you’d like a friend or non-immediate family member to become your kids’ legal guardian, it’s especially important that you state this clearly in your will. Otherwise, it’s usually a closely related willing family member’ who will get guardianship.

How do I write a will?

Before you write your will, it’s best to prepare. You can do this by working out what your estate consists of, from your property to any assets you own.

Write a list of your assets

First, write a list of your assets. This might include:

  • Any property you own, such as a house

  • Your savings

  • What insurance you have (e.g. life insurance)

  • Pensions

  • Investments

  • Personal belongings, especially those of high value

  • Furniture and the contents of your home

Write a list of your debts

Next, write a list of your debts. Include:

Think about how you’d like to distribute your estate

Think about what you’d like to do with each of your assets. Do you want specific items to go to specific people, or divide things up between several people? Who do you want to give your home and money to?

What would you like to happen if any of your beneficiaries die before you? Would you like to give a donation to charity?

Who do you want to be your executor(s)? They will be responsible for sorting this all out after you die.

Getting your will written

Before you start, you may want to get advice from a lawyer, solicitor or chartered legal executive, particularly someone who deals in wills. You could also use a professional will writing service or a bank to write a will. Some charities offer a free will writing service, too, including us at CAP.

You can also write your own will, as long as you write and sign it correctly, so it’s a proper legal document.

It can cost between £30 (if you write the will yourself) to £500 to write your will (with a solicitor’s help). The average cost is between £150 and £250.

However, you can sometimes get your will written for free. CAP has partnered with Farewill and the National Wills Network to offer a free will-writing service, so if you’re looking to write (or amend) your will, you can do so with no cost attached.

Making sure your will is valid

To make sure your will is a valid legal document, you have to sign your name in the presence of two independent witnesses. This cannot include anyone who is a named beneficiary in the will, such as spouses, or they’ll lose their right to anything you’ve named as theirs. Your two witnesses also have to sign the will, and no beneficiaries should be present at the time. It’s also best practice not to ask your executor to sign.

You must also have mental capacity at the time of making the will, and have made it of your own accord, not under pressure from others.

At the start of your will, it should say that it revokes all others (in other words, it replaces all old versions of any wills you’ve written previously). Get rid of your old ones and keep your most up to date will.

You should store your will safely, whether this is at home, with the Probate Service, or with a solicitor or bank, and let your executor(s) know where it is.

I already have a will. How do I update it?

If you go through any big changes, for example buying a house or getting married, you’ll need to update your will. If you just want to make a small change, like adding a charitable donation to your will, you can add what’s called a codicil to your existing will. This has to be signed and witnessed too.

If you need to change anything big, it’s best to make a new will and get rid of your old one.

If you change your marital status, it’s best to create a new will. If you get married (or re-married) or enter a civil partnership, your existing will is cancelled, so you’ll need a new one.

If you get divorced, your will isn’t cancelled but your ex-partner will automatically be removed as a beneficiary.

Write your will for free

We’ve partnered with Farewill and the National Wills Network so you can get your will written (or a codicil added) for free. If you’re looking to write a will, get in touch today.