Is there ever a 'right time' to make a will? The answer to that question is yes, and the right time is as soon as possible. There are lots of times in life when people start to think more about getting a will. Maybe when children or grand-children arrive, or a change in your circumstances. For some people though it's more about just having peace of mind that your wishes are set down in case anything happens to you. Whatever your personal reason for wanting to make a will it is also important for other reasons, such as:
- to make sure your money and possessions go where you would like them to, as if you die without a will the state's rules will take control of how it is all allocated
- to protect partners who are not married or in a registered civil partnership as they cannot inherit from each other unless there is a will
- to set down arrangements for children if one of their parents dies
- to make sure you don't pay more inheritance tax than you need to.
How do I make my will?
There are lots of different ways to make your will. Many law firms will be able to do this for you. If you get your will written by a lawyer their firm will tell you which organisation regulates them and there will be different ways that you and your will are protected. You can find out more about this on our types of lawyers page. There are also professional will-writing companies that can help you. You might find that other professionals like accountants or financial advisers can help.
Whoever you decide to use it is important to ask them right from the start which professional bodies they belong to and which regulators keep watch over them. This will help you to make sure you understand what would happen if you or your relatives had a problem with the will at any stage. In England and Wales people aged 18 and over also have the right to make their own will. If your final wishes are quite simple for example you might instead prefer to download a self-completion will pack from a website, or buy one from a shop.
Does it matter who writes my will?
It is an important document, so the answer has to be yes. Cost is a big factor of course and you should always aim to get a few quotes to get a feel for the amount you might need to pay. However there are other things to bear in mind when you are making your choice. If you use a regulated lawyer (see our types of lawyers page for details of the different types) - this means that:
- you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman about any problems with the service you receive
- they have to follow a Code of Conduct and requirements set down by their regulator
- the regulator for the lawyer sets standards for their training and education which they must meet
The details of their regulator will be shown on their website and their notepaper. They must tell their clients about the right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman if they are unhappy with the service. If you use a will writer who is not a regulated lawyer, this means that:
- the Legal Ombudsman is not able to consider complaints about their service and you should aim to find out what arrangements they have in place instead
- some belong to trade associations with rules, complaints handling services and education standards, although unregulated will writers are not required to do this by law
- other professionals like financial advisers may be regulated and you should aim to find out the name of the regulator and how you would be protected
If you go it alone and write your own will or get a friend to do it for you this means that:
- there is a possibility in some cases of missing something important or not completing the will properly, which could lead to some or all of the will being invalid.
The big questions
Before you begin the process of making a will it's worth spending some time thinking about what you want the will to do for you, as well as finding any documents you might want to check through first - such as the terms and conditions of a pension scheme. In this way if you do use a lawyer, or another professional, you will already have an idea about what your wishes are and what you want the will to say. Key things Legal Choices suggests you think about are:
- what do you own? this could include any assets so think about things like money and bank accounts, pension schemes you are in, and personal possessions with value like cars or houses
- who do you want to inherit the things you own? there might be family members, a partner, friends or charities that you would want to inherit your things and you should think about how to divide these among them
- who do you want to be the executors for your will? this means the people that you'll tell about your will and trust to take forward your wishes, which could be a family or friend, or a professional like a lawyer
- where do you want to keep your will? you need to keep it safe and your executors need to be able to access it after your death, if you use a lawyer or a professional will-writer they may offer to store it safely for you for free or for a small charge
How much should I pay for my will?
The amount you pay for a will to be written can depend on where you decide to get the will from, as well as how complex it turns out to be. Writing your own will or using a self-completion pack is probably the cheapest way, but has a higher risk in terms of the will not being correctly completed or being invalid. If you use a law firm or a will-writing firm you should ask for information right from the start before you sign up to anything about the cost. Request a fixed fee or a breakdown of their charges and how they will work out your bill. Don't be afraid to ask more than one firm for a quote so that you can compare.
A charity called Will Aid runs a campaign every November where you can get your will written by a lawyer in return for making a donation to Will Aid, rather than paying their charges. The suggested donation is £95 for a basic will. You can find out more about the different charity based schemes on the Money Saving Expert website.
How often should I update my will?
If you have a change in any of your circumstances you will need to update your will. This could be something like a new grandchild arriving, a change in your finances, or just changing your final wishes about who will get what. When you have signed a new version you must then destroy the old copy. If a law firm or a will writing firm keeps your will for you then ask them to make sure they have destroyed the old version and replaced it. You should also update your executors so that they are aware of the new version.
Need more help?
If you want more details about your legal choices when you decide to make your will we suggest taking a look at:
- Citizens Advice's guide to making a will
- Citizens Advice's guide to managing situations where someone dies without a will - if there is no will
- The Government's need-to-know facts about making a will
It isn't always easy to tell the difference between regulated and unregulated legal advisers. All regulated lawyers will have details of their regulator on their website and notepaper. They are obliged to tell clients about their right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman if they are unhappy with the service. Check that your legal adviser is regulated by one of the regulators. Unregulated advisers may refer to being a member of a trade association. These are like a kind of club for advisers. Trade associations may not have compulsory powers in the way that regulators do.