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By making a will you can decide what happens to your property and possessions after your death. Although you do not have to make one by law, it is the best way to make sure your estate is passed on to family and friends exactly as you wish. If you die without a will, your assets may be distributed according to the law rather than your wishes.
Why it's important to make a will
A will sets out who is to benefit from your property and possessions (your estate) after your death. There are many good reasons to make a will:
you can decide how your assets are shared - if you don't have a will, the law says who gets what
if you're an unmarried couple (whether or not it's a same-sex relationship), you can make sure your partner is provided for
if you're divorced, you can decide whether to leave anything to your former partner
you can make sure you don't pay more Inheritance Tax than necessary
Preparing your will
Although it is possible to write a will by yourself, it is advisable to use a solicitor as there are various legal formalities you need to follow to make sure that your will is valid. You may also need legal advice for more complicated matters. A solicitor can also advise you about how Inheritance Tax affects you.
A solicitor may be able to visit you in your own home, care home or hospital.
The cost of writing a will can vary between solicitors and will depend on how complicated your affairs may be and the experience of the solicitor.
As well as solicitors, voluntary organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau and Age UK can also help with your will.
What should be included in your will
Before you write your will or consult a solicitor, it's a good idea to think about what you want included in your will. You should consider:
Leaving a gift to charity in your will
You may also want to consider supporting your favourite charities with a gift in your will, after you’ve taken care of friends and family. Follow the link below to the 'Remember A Charity' website to find how to do this.
Where to keep your will safe
Once you've made your will, it is important to keep it in a safe place and tell your executor, close friend or relative where it is. If a solicitor makes your will, they will normally keep the original and send you a copy. You can ask for the original if you wish to hold it.
Keeping your will up-to-date
You should review your will every five years and after any major change in your life - such as getting separated, married or divorced, having a child or moving house. Any change must be by 'codicil' (an addition, amendment or supplement to a will) or by making a new will.
Making a will in Scotland
Scottish law on inheritance differs from English law. If you live in Scotland and want to make a will, you can contact a solicitor or voluntary organisations such as Age Scotland or Citizens Advice Bureau for advice.
The Scottish Government's 'Rights of succession' guide explains what happens if someone dies in Scotland without making a will.