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What do I need to make a will?
When you make a will, there are certain decisions you’ll need to make and there's certain information you should start to gather.
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Things to consider when writing a will
- how much is your estate (everything you own) worth?
- who do you want to inherit your property?
- what should happen to your estate when you die?
- how can you protect yourself if your circumstances change?
- how can you protect your children or any vulnerable dependents?
Making a will checklist
Your personal information
You’ll need to provide your will writer with details about yourself. This includes your full name, date of birth, current address, relationship status and the names of any children you have, along with their date of birth.
You’ll need to consider what assets (items of value) you own, including those owned in your sole name and those owned in joint names. This might include property, bank accounts, stocks and shares, vehicles, foreign assets and anything else of value such as jewellery. You should also consider what debts and liabilities you have such as a mortgage or outstanding loan. This will help you to calculate the net value of your estate.
You’ll then need to decide who you want to receive your estate when you die.
There are different ways you can do this. You might leave everything to one person, such as your spouse. However, you should also decide who should inherit your estate if your main beneficiary dies before you. So your will could say that if your spouse dies before you, your two children should receive your estate in equal shares.
Or you might want to make specific gifts (such as gifts of personal property) or leave fixed cash gifts to certain people or organisations. So, for example, you could request that your wedding ring is left to your goddaughter Alice, and that £5,000 is paid to a particular charity. You can then say that whatever is leftover after payment of earlier gifts, liabilities and administration expenses (called your ‘residuary estate’) should be given to your son James.
You’ll need to provide the full names and addresses of all your beneficiaries.
It's worth noting that gifts and donations to charity in a will are normally exempt from inheritance tax. To qualify for the inheritance tax exemption the charity must have Charity Reference Number, and you will need to state this number in your will.
Next you’ll need to choose your executors. Your executors are the people who will wind up your affairs after you die. It’s a job that carries a lot of responsibility, so it’s important to choose someone who is capable of carrying out the role. Most people will name someone they know and trust to be their executor.
You can choose just one executor or you can choose multiple executors to act together. You can also nominate replacement executors in case those named are unable or unwilling to act when the time comes. It is common to appoint a beneficiary as an executor as well.
If you are struggling to think of someone who could act in this role, you do have the option of appointing a professional executor.
If you’re choosing individuals as your executors then you’ll need to provide their full names and addresses.
Legal guardians for your children
If you have children who are under the age of 18, you’ll need to make provisions for them. This includes naming a legal guardian who will be legally responsible for your children if you and their other parent both die while they are under the age of 18.
You’ll need to provide the full names and addresses of your legal guardians.
You’ll need to decide whether you want to put certain assets (normally money or property) into trust. There are different types of trusts available and each have their own benefits.
One example of how a trust can be used if to protect your children's inheritance if they are still under 18. For example, you might want their inheritance to be placed in a trust which they can only access at a certain age.
If you do decide to create a trust, you’ll need to appoint trustees who will manage the trust on behalf of the beneficiary. Your trustees could be the same people who act as your executors.
You’ll need to provide the full names and addresses of your trustees.
Leaving gifts in your will
When your will is being written, you can make three types of gifts:
specific gifts are gifts of specific items, like an item of jewellery or your golf clubs
pecuniary gifts are gifts of a certain amount of money to a certain beneficiary
residuary gifts are gifts made from your residuary estate, which is what's left after all pecuniary gifts and outstanding debts have been paid
You can specify your funeral wishes in your will. However, wills often aren’t discovered until after the funeral. Even if your will is discovered before then, your loved ones aren’t legally obliged to follow your wishes.
Letter of wishes
A Letter of Wishes, also known as an expression of wishes, is a letter written by you and kept with your will, or given to your executors or trustees for safe keeping. In it, you can explain why you have chosen to distribute your estate in the way you have. A will can become a public document if probate is needed on your estate, whereas a Letter of Wishes is written as a private document.
In English law, pets are part of your estate, so your will should specify what you would like to happen to your pets after you pass away. For more information see how to provide for pets in your will.
For all these reasons, a will could be one of the most important legal documents you will ever sign.
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