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A quick guide to making a will

Though it may be tempting to delay making a will until a later date, it’s essential if you want to ensure your estate is distributed among your chosen beneficiaries and reduce the risk of complications. Here, we take a look at the six basic steps involved in making a will and why it’s a good idea to seek professional legal assistance when doing so.

1. The contents of your will
The first step in creating a will is discuss the likely value of your estate and to determine what assets you have to distribute among family and friends. This will involve looking at both your assets and debts to ensure that you have a comprehensive understanding of what you have to potentially leave to your beneficiaries.

2. The distribution of those contents
Having established what assets, including personal belongings, you have to pass on to your chosen beneficiaries, you next need to determine how these assets will be distributed. Most people will have a relatively clear idea of how they want to divide their estate and to whom certain assets will go, others will require more time to consider their wishes.

3. Choosing an executor
The executor of a will is the individual who ensures that the terms of the will are carried out precisely and in accordance with your written wishes. The executor should be someone who is willing to assume the role upon your death and that will carry out the role in an impartial manner. They can be family members, a close friend, or a legal representative (they can also – contrary to popular belief – be a beneficiary of your estate). It is good practice to have two executors so that they can work together and also so that you still have an executor in place if the other were to pass away.

4. Your children and your will
If you have children who are still relatively young, there are a number of considerations you may want to make when writing your will. First, it may be necessary to appoint a testamentary guardian for your children. The guardian could be responsible for their care should something happen to both parents. This may include provisions for step- and adopted children and how best to make provision for disabled children, immediately and in the long-term. Such clauses are, however, an expression of your wishes and not legally binding.

Second, if you’re not convinced that your children are of a suitable age to be made fully responsible for their inheritance, it may be a good idea to appoint someone to manage it for them until they reach an agreed age, or set up a trust fund to be managed by Trustees.

5. Witnessing the will
The final step in writing an official will is having it witnessed. To be valid, all wills must be signed and this process must be witnessed by two independent individuals. Wills also need to be signed by an individual who is doing so voluntarily, without any coercion from another person, and who is in a sound mental state and understands the consequences of their actions. 

6. Making the most of professional legal advice
Though it is possible to write a will without any professional legal advice, it is not advisable to do so. It may save you a relatively small fee in the short-term, but it could result in a number of long-term problems that could prove costly to your estate. Professional legal advice provides a number of benefits:

  • A smooth and complication-free probate process. If a will is not checked over by a legal professional, there’s a greater likelihood that problems may occur when it comes to the point when the directions of the will are carried out. 
  • A will that’s been created or checked over by a professional legal advisor offers peace of mind. You can rest assured that it is correctly drafted and valid.
    Professional legal advisors will help you make the most of your estate. This is particularly important if the estate is liable to pay inheritance tax or have assets which may complicate matters, such as overseas property. 
  • Will writing can involve some fairly complex legal concepts. For instance, assets left to young children can be protected until they’re of age in a number of different ways. Each of these operates in a different way and has its own advantages and disadvantages. A legal professional will be able to advise you as to which is most appropriate for your specific circumstances.

Some life events such as marriage, divorce and separation which would prompt major changes, will require making a new will. Minor changes to a will can be covered by a codicil (a legally binding amendment).

If you’d like further information concerning will writing, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Private Client team on 01484 821 300.

Charlene Vilia, Senior Solicitor