How to make a will – why’s it important, and how much does it cost?

Written by Christophe Locatelli13/03/23

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Paying for care

Writing a will is an integral part of estate planning, and it’s advisable not to delay making it. A will ensures that your wishes are followed regarding the distribution of your assets after you die. It also helps make the probate process quicker and easier for your loved ones. In this article, we will cover all the important questions you may have regarding writing a will and receiving probate. 

Why is making a will important?

A will is a legal document that sets out your wishes for your property and assets after you die. It’s recommended to create a will, regardless of the number of possessions or amount of money you have. This is for the purpose of protecting your assets, and providing peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out. Without a will, the distribution of money, property and possessions is determined by laws. Unmarried and unregistered partners cannot legally receive an inheritance from each other without a will, so the death of one partner may result in financial hardship for the other.

If you have children who are still dependent on you, it’s recommended to create a will in order to properly arrange for the care of your children should one or both parents pass away.

Consulting with a professional advisor or a will-writing solicitor and creating a will can reduce the amount of tax paid when inheritance is distributed.

How much do wills cost?

A simple will is the preferred choice for individuals under 50, who don’t have a large estate or additional children from a previous marriage – who will likely receive something through the will. It’s by far the cheapest option too. The price of a simple will can generally range from £150 to lower, depending on if the individual decides to prepare it themselves or with the help of a professional will writing service.

When you have a large estate, need to put your assets into trust, or own a business, it may be advisable to have a complex will. A complex will can come with costs ranging from £200-£400 and will include provisions for dealing with inheritance tax or delaying inheritance money for anyone under the age of 18.

Joint wills are documents created by married couples which guarantee that the surviving spouse will receive their partner’s assets. This is a binding document, so once one spouse passes, it can’t be changed. This can create problems for those who remarry and would like to give some of their assets to their new spouse. Typically, joint wills cost between £200-£600.

Mirror wills are for couples who have similar plans for their wills. These wills are the identical, and if one partner passes away, the surviving receives the assets. Allowance for children, guardians and executors can be named, as well as personal items or assets to particular people. A mirror will makes inheritance tax minimal, as they allow the surviving partner to receive the inheritance tax allowance. Mirror wills typically cost £250 for both.

What is the Inheritance tax allowance?

Inheritance tax is paid on the overall value of a person’s estate – i.e the assets left in their will. this can include –

  • Savings (including stocks and shares)
  • Personal possessions
  • Property (in the form of homes)
  • Pension funds

 

If you decide to leave your entire estate to your spouse or civil partner you’ll likely be exempt from paying inheritance tax. Monetary gifts of up to £3,000 in each tax year are also exempt from Inheritance Tax.

However, in most other cases, inheritance tax will need to be paid on any estate valued over £325,000.

When it comes to couples – if none of the £325,000 thresholds was used when the first partner passed away, then upon the death of their spouse or civil partner, up to £650,000 may be tax-exempt as the threshold can be passed on.

A transfer can be requested for married and civil partnership couples – when the first death occurred, or if you send the request to HMRC within 2 years of the death of the surviving spouse or civil partner.

Overall, this means that once the couple’s estate is passed onto their surviving relatives, such as children, the first £650,000, rather than £325,000 will be tax-exempt. This is why mirror wills are preferable for married couples with large estates and children.

Inheritance tax is a complex topic, so it’s always best to seek impartial inheritance tax planning advice. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau, or financial organisations like SOLLA can help you find the right support.

Do I need a solicitor to write a will?

Creating your will alone may seem like a cost-effective option – however, the complexity of your estate can result in mistakes. It’s essential to identify and address all possible assets, including stocks, shares and property while taking into account the needs of beneficiaries such as children and partners. In this case, seeking professional legal advice from a qualified solicitor or will-writer is recommended.

Hiring a solicitor or will writer can have additional benefits too –

  • They can make sure you’re clear in your will, so that your wishes will be followed.
  • If there is potential for your will to be contested, a solicitor can take steps to make sure it is legally binding and enforceable.
  • Writing a will without the aid of a legal services professional can lead to errors that may be exploited or disregarded in accordance with the law.
  • A solicitor will ensure that all necessary legal requirements are met for a valid will.
  • When dealing with trusts, large assets, and complex arrangements, it’s generally recommended to have a solicitor draft the will in order to avoid leaving loved ones in a difficult situation after one’s passing.

What should be included in a will?

When going to a solicitor to draft a will, it’s important to think ahead and consider the main points, such as desired beneficiaries and division of assets:

  • A will should include all financial assets, which comprise property, savings, occupational and personal pensions, insurance policies, bank and building society accounts, and shares.
  • When making your will, make a list of people you want to benefit. These people are referred to as beneficiaries. You should then decide if you would like to leave any money to charity. Charitable legacies are also exempt from tax.
  • Who should be responsible for any children under 18.
  • Who your executors will be – the people responsible for administering financial assets and fulfilling any wishes stated in the will.
  • It can also be beneficial to include your funeral wishes, or outline specific funds for your funeral costs

Requirements for a valid will

For a will to be legally valid, it must meet certain requirements. It should be and include:

  • Written by someone aged 18 or over, in a voluntary manner, without external influence.
  • The document must be created by an individual capable of making a rational decision. They should also be aware of the implications of the document, as well as those benefiting from it.
  • The will should be in writing and signed by the person making the will, in the presence of two independent witnesses and signed by them after the will has been made.
  • No beneficiary of the will can be a witness or spouse of a witness. If the witness or their married partner is named in the will, the will is still valid, but they cannot receive the benefit.
  • It’s recommended that a will should also include the date of its signing for legal validity, although this is not required.

 

When the will has been both witnessed and signed, it’s considered complete.

If an invalid will is made, the distribution of the estate on death will be determined by the relevant laws, and not in accordance with any wishes stated in the will.

If an individual passes away without a valid will, rules of intestacy indicate the individuals who may be entitled to inheritance.

The current intestacy rules in the UK state that:

  • If there are no children, the surviving spouse will be given the remainder of the estate.
  • According to the Administration of Estates Act 125 (Fixed Net Sum) Order 2020 and The Inheritance Tax and Trustees Powers Act 2014, if a person dies with a surviving spouse and child(ren), the surviving spouse is generally given all personal chattels, a statutory legacy of £270,000 plus interest from the date of death, and 50% of any residuary estate. The remaining 50% of the residuary estate is normally distributed between the deceased’s children. Prior to ITPA 2014, this entitlement was often placed in life interest trusts for the spouse.

 

There is a ‘survivorship period’ or a spouse of 28-days, a time of which they cannot inherit an estate or assets. If the spouse dies within that time, they are treated as having not survived the deceased. If they pass within the 28-days, the next class of beneficiaries becomes entitled, for whom there is no survivorship period.

Where to keep a will

When your will is legally complete, you should keep it in a safe place, with no other documents attached. You can keep it in any place you deem the safest, examples include – with a trusted solicitor or accountant, at home, or in a bank. You can also keep it in designated registries, such as the Principal Registry of the Family Division of the High Court, a District Registry or a Probate Sub-Registry – If you wish to deposit a will in this way you can contact them at this address and telephone numbers:

Probate Department (England and Wales)

Principal Registry of the Family Division

First Avenue House

42-49 High Holborn

London

WC1V 6NP

Tel: 020 7947 7022 (safe custody enquiries); 020 7947 6983 (how to obtain a will-recorded message); 020 7947 6043/6939 (personal application enquiries)

Probate Helpline: 0300 123 1072

Fax: 020 7947 6946

 

How to change a will

In case of a change in circumstances, you may change your will. However, altering the original will after it has been signed and witnessed is not allowed. Any visible changes to the will are presumed to have been made after it was originally signed and do not count towards the legal validity of the document.

The only way you can change a will is by making an additional will that explains changes to the original will or a new will entirely.

It’s important to update a will if your circumstances change. For instance, if you have been in a relationship that has now ended, or if you are married or in a civil partnership. Doing so will ensure that your money and possessions are distributed as per your wishes, and invalidate any previous wills that you have made.

Searching for copies of a will after someone dies

It’s possible that someone close to you may have passed away leaving a will which can’t be found in their home.

The Principal Registry of the Family Division will have issued a certificate of deposit if a will was arranged to be kept there.

If you can’t locate a Certificate of Deposit, contact the Registry to determine if they store the will. Additionally, if the person died in a care home or hospital, the will may have been left there.

The will may also be held by the individual’s solicitor, accountant, or bank.

The will may be listed with a third-party such as The National Will Register, and paying for a search of the company’s database can provide information about the document’s whereabouts following the death of its writer(s). The company can also request the help of local solicitors to determine whether a will exists for the deceased person.

If you can’t find a valid will, you’ll have to deal with the person’s estate as if they did not write a will. In this case, the laws of intestacy apply.

 

What is probate?

A grant of probate is the authorisation to handle a will. When someone passes away, probate gives the legal authority to handle their estate, including any money and property. It’s vital that you don’t make any financial arrangements or put any property on the market which is included in the will until probate is obtained.

You can apply for probate if you’re an executor named on a will, or if there’s not a will, you can apply if you’re the closest living relative.

You may not need probate if the person who died only had savings, if their shares or money was owned jointly with other surviving people, or if their property was shared ownership – all of this will be passed to the surviving owners unless agreed otherwise.

Receiving a copy of the will when probate has been granted

Upon granting of probate, the original will is retained by the Probate Service and copies can be obtained by any person.

To search for the will of a person who has died, an application can be submitted to the Probate Service for a standing search. The records will be reviewed to determine if probate has been granted within 12 months prior to the application, and will continue to be monitored over a six month period.

When you have the grant of probate, you will receive copies of the grant and relevant wills.

A search may be renewed after six months for an additional fee. It is recommended to wait for approximately three months after death before beginning to search.

If you want to carry out your own search or find the will of an individual who died more than 12 months previously, you can make a general enquiry.

A general search of the Probate Registry can cover up to a four-year period and you will be required to pay a fee. Visiting the Probate Registry in person doesn’t have any additional charge, although copies of the grant of probate and will still cost extra.

 

Read more later life articles 

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