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How to write a will

Last updated 29th April 2024

6 min read

A will is an official record of what you’d like to happen to your money, property, assets and dependants when you die. It’s a legal document and is officially known as ‘a last will and testament’. You can prepare your own will, but it will need to be witnessed. In many cases, it’s best to get a solicitor to do it for you.

This article explains what a will is, why you need a will, and how to make a will.

On this page:

What is a will?

Your will is a legal record of what you’d like to happen to your assets when you pass away. It’s a chance to say how you’d like your money, property and possessions to be shared. And if you have any dependants, it lets you state how you want them to be cared for when you’re gone.

Why do you need a will?

Dying without a will (known as ‘dying intestate’) means your wishes may not be taken into account. What’s more, it may mean your loved ones have to spend time and money settling your affairs when you’re gone.

Just some of the other reasons why you need a will are:

  • You can specify who gets what

    Writing a will lets you be clear about who you want your assets to go to, and how much you want each person to have.

  • It will make life easier for your loved ones

    Having a will means your loved ones will be able to access your assets faster.

  • You can name who you would like to care for your children

    This decision will be made by the courts if you don't have a will

  • You'll know where you stand with inheritance tax

    Not having a will may increase the amount of tax owed on any inheritance you leave. This is because your assets would be shared out according to intestacy rules. So they may be subject to inheritance tax that could be avoided by having a will.

  • You can make sure you and your partner will be financially supported

    If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, you and your partner can’t inherit from each other if there’s no will. So if one of you were to pass away, it could create financial issues for the other.

What's the difference between a will and a trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement that allows assets to be transferred from you to a new owner (the ‘trustee’). Unlike a will, which only comes into effect when you die, a trust can operate while you’re still alive.

Another key difference between a will and a trust is a will gifts an asset to your chosen loved ones (known as ‘beneficiaries'). A trust transfers ownership of an asset. Whoever is named the trustee must handle the asset in line with the terms laid out in the trust.

The aim of a trust( opens in a new tab) is to let someone benefit from the asset without legally owning it. So the trustee will handle the asset for any beneficiaries you name.

This can be beneficial in certain situations. For example, if you want to leave an inheritance to someone who may not be capable of spending it wisely (such as someone with addiction issues).

How do I make a will?

The first steps to making a will in the UK are:

  1. Value your estate – Make a list of all your assets, plus any debts you have.
  2. Divide your estate – List who you'd like each asset to be left to.
  3. Plan for your children's care – If you have children or dependants under 18, state who yo want to take care of them, if you die.
  4. Name your executor – This is the person who'll get your estate and wishes sorted after your death.
  5. Cover all circumstances – State what you want to happen if any of the people you name in the will pass away before you.

If your will is complicated, legal advice is a must. For example, if you have:

  • A business
  • Property abroad
  • Dependants who can't care for themselves
  • A home that you share with someone other than your wife, husband, or civil partner

You can find out more in's Making a will guidelines( opens in a new tab)

If you get married or enter into a registered civil partnership, any previous will you had won't be valid any more.

How to validate your will

Once your will has been drafted, you need to get it witnessed. Ideally, by two people of sound mind who know you very well. The witnesses must be over 18 and must sign the document while you’re present.

Any witnesses (and their married/civil partners) will need to be ‘disinterested’. This means they must be independent adults with no personal interest in the will. And they cannot be related to you

If you'd like a solicitor to be a witness, it shouldn't be the solicitor who prepared your will.

Where to get help with making a will

There are several ways to get help when making a will:

How much does a will cost?

The cost of making a will( opens in a new tab) can very hugely – from £10 for a will-writing kit, to thousands of pounds for a legal professional to do it for you. It depends on whether or not you use a solicitor, and on the complexity of your will.

It’s worth contacting a few solicitors to get a quote. Or if you’re a member of a trade union, you may be able to get your will done for free.

Where should I keep my will?

You can make multiple copies of your will and keep it safe in various places, such as:

Keep in mind, you may be charged to keep your will outside of your own home.

Remember to tell your executor and loved ones where your will is stored.

Can I update my will?

Yes, you can update your will. If your circumstances change (for example, if you get divorced, or if children become adults), it’s important to review your will. But you can’t change the original will once it’s been signed and witnessed. Instead, you’ll need to either make a codicil or a new will:

What is a codocil?

A codicil is an addition to your will that makes some changes, but leaves the rest of the will unchanged. For example, you might add a codicil if you decide to leave more money to a loved one, change your executor, or add a beneficiary. Just like your original will, a codicil needs to be signed by you and witnessed.

Make a new will

If you need to make large changes to your will, it may be best to make a new one. Generally, the new will should state that any previous wills and codicils are revoked. This means they are no longer valid. You should destroy your old will.

Help and resources opens in a new tab) and Citizens Advice( opens in a new tab) have guides to help you with wills, probate, tax, inheritance and more. You can also explore more of SunLife’s articles and guides:

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.