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Our guide to making a Will

Tim Duncan - Senior Controls Executive.

Tim Duncan

Senior Controls Executive

5 min read

Everything you need to know.

The importance of making a Will

Writing a Will is the only way to have full say in how your money, property and belongings are shared out and how your affairs are handled when you die.

Not writing a Will means you have no control over what will happen and loved ones may not be provided for in the way you would want them to be. Dying without a Will also risks leaving them with the stress of sorting out family disputes and financial or legal issues that could have been avoided.

A Will is simply a legal document setting out your wishes in crystal clear terms and setting one up isn’t difficult. But getting it right is important – grey areas or mistakes may turn out to be as bad as no Will at all. This is why using a legal professional makes sense especially with more affordable options available.

‘E’ words to know


Everything you own when you die – your property, possessions and financial assets less any debts. However, assets held in joint names (for instance property owned as a joint tenancy or joint bank accounts) will pass directly to the surviving co-owner.


A person you appoint to take care of your estate when you die. They make sure your wishes are followed according to your Will and are responsible for settling your financial affairs.

Questions?  Read our FAQs

Reasons to make a will

1. The right people will get the right things

Writing a Will makes sure your wishes are clear and your money and possessions will be shared out in the way you want, when you die.

2. You can appoint someone to look after your affairs

A Will lets you choose the people you trust to manage your estate when you die.

3. Your partner will be taken care of

If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, your partner could be overlooked if you don’t have a Will because the law will dictate what happens to your estate.

4. Your children will be looked after

You can set out arrangements for your children’s care, including naming a guardian with the legal right to look after the personal and financial interests of children under 18.

5. Your funeral plans can be documented for your loved ones

A Will is a good place to set out your funeral wishes. Just remember to tell someone that your funeral plans are recorded there so they know where to find them.

Remember, your circumstances may change. Things will change all the time as you go through life – relationships change, children may come along and loved ones pass away. It’s important your Will is updated to reflect your current situation so the right people will benefit when you die.

What happens if you don’t make a Will

If you don’t make a Will, you die ‘intestate’ and the rules of ‘intestacy’ will decide how your estate is shared out. These rules also override the wishes expressed in a Will that’s not legally valid, so it pays to get a Will right.

Only married or civil partners who are legally married at the time of death and some other close relatives, can inherit under intestacy rules. These people have no right to inherit from you if you die intestate:

  • Unmarried partners (the term 'common-law' is misleading)
  • Same sex couples not in a civil partnership
  • Relations by marriage (e.g. step-children)
  • Close friends
  • Carers

If you have no surviving close relatives your entire estate will go to the Crown.

Straightforward answers to your questions

Q: I don't have anything to
leave, do I need a Will?

A: Even if you feel that you don't own much of value, it's worth writing a Will to ensure what you do have goes to the people or charity you'd like it to. It's also important to appoint an executor to take care of your affairs when you die, which is done as part of arranging your Will.

Q: When's the right
time to make a Will?

A: In short, now. You should always have an up-to-date Will and should think about writing a new Will or updating an existing one when your circumstances change, for example when you start a family or get divorced.

Q: What is a beneficiary?

A: A beneficiary is simply a person who receives (benefits) from a Will.

Q: Can the same person be
an executor and beneficiary of my Will?

A: Yes, anyone you appoint as an executor can also be a beneficiary of your Will.

Q: What kind of gifts
can I include in my Will?

A: When you gift something to someone in your Will, it is called a "legacy". A legacy does not need to be of high value, it's simply something you would like to see a specific person have. Perhaps an item of sentimental value or a sum of money to a favoured charity or friend.

Q: My children are under 18.
Do I need to nominate guardians in my Will?

A: No you don't have to nominate a guardian, but your Will is the ideal place to do so. If you die while your children are young with no guardian appointed, the courts will decide who should take care of your children.

Q: Do I have to pay a
professional to write my Will?

A: No, you can write your Will yourself if you choose to. Although be aware that if anything is unclear or wrong in your Will, that could result in confusion or even the Will being invalid, when you won't be around to set the record straight. The benefit of paying a professional to help is that they understand the relevant rules and laws and can ensure your Will is both legally binding and correctly worded.

Q: What is Probate?

A: In simple terms, Probate is a legal process to establish if a Will is valid and the Executors have the authority to administer the estate of a person who has died. Whether Probate is needed depends on the value and contents of the deceased person's estate.

For more information, read our article Understanding Probate.

Q: How do I change my Will?

A: You can make minor changes to your existing Will by using an additional document called a Codicil. For example, changing the name of an executor or changing who inherits what.

Q: Where should I keep my Will?

A: Your Will is an important document that should be stored safely and securely. You could keep it securely at home, or store it with the Probate Service for a small fee.

Don't forget to give your executors clear instructions about where to find your Will when you die.

The smallest print

The information contained in this guide is based on our understanding of the law of intestacy in England and Wales only as at April 2019. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly different. This guide is for information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.