Making a will to protect children

Mother and child reading

If you die in England or Wales without a valid will and you have children under 18, others can make decisions about who will take care of the children and manage their finances and education.

From as little as £150 (including VAT) a will provides peace of mind of knowing the children will be protected and cared for after you pass away.

When we have provided you with a written quote for the agreed work, that price will not change. As part of the Co-op Group, our values of openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others are core to the service we provide.

If you have children under 18 years old

Making a will allows you to name people you and your children trust to look after their well-being if you die. Once these wishes are stated clearly in your will, you can be sure your children will be properly protected.

Co-op Legal Services can help you every step of the way to write a will that will name both guardians and trustees for your children. Our will writers make the will writing process as quick and straightforward as possible, and ensure that all the legal aspects of your wishes are properly covered.

Choosing a legal guardian for your children

When making a will, most people focus on what will happen to their assets when they die. But if you have children, it's also essential to consider who would care for them if you were no longer around. It's possible to appoint a legal guardian for your children when you make your will.

Parents can appoint a legal guardian to care for their children if they die while the child is under 18. The requirements for formally appointing a legal guardian are very similar to the requirements of putting a will in place. For example, it needs to be in writing and signed in the presence of two witnesses. It’s for this reason that many people incorporate their choice of legal guardian into the terms of their will.

So how do you choose the right legal guardian? Firstly, it’s important to recognise that the guardianship appointment would only take effect if there was no one else alive who already has parental responsibility. So normally the terms of the guardianship appointment would state that it only takes effect if both parents have died.

The next step is to consider who, outside of the natural parents, would be most suitable. Sometimes this is an obvious choice. However, in a lot of instances it’s not so clear cut. You'll need to consider where they live, their religious or ethical beliefs, their relationship with your child, whether they will want to take on the responsibility of raising your child.

When it comes to choosing a guardian, there's no right or wrong answer, other than what you feel would be in the best interests of your child.

If you have children over 18 years old

If you die without a will in England or Wales, your estate (your home, car, bank accounts, investments and anything else you own) will be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy, which govern who will inherit your estate when you are gone.

The rules of intestacy state that all children will receive their inheritance outright at the age of 18, whatever their financial position or their levels of maturity. The rules of intestacy also state that, if your children are entitled to benefit, then your estate will be divided up equally between all your children (excluding stepchildren), which may not be what you want.

Making a will can ensure that your grown-up children receive their inheritance when you choose. It may be that you want them to inherit at age 21 or 25 rather than age 18, or perhaps you’d prefer that they had a share of their inheritance at age 18 and receive the remainder at a later date.

Writing a will can also ensure that money or other gifts given to your children during your lifetime can be taken into account, helping to minimise disputes between your children after you die.

If you have stepchildren

If you’d like to provide for a stepchild after you pass away, you need to state this clearly in your will, otherwise they will not inherit any of your finances, property or possessions.

The rules of intestacy were created in 1925 and they don’t always accomodate modern family structures, and they don't recognise stepchildren at all.

If you have children from a previous relationship

If you’re in a relationship but not married or in a civil partnership with your partner and you die without a will, all your property and possessions in your estate will be inherited by your children, meaning your new partner will be left with nothing at all.

However if you’ve married or entered into a civil partnership and you die without a will, your new spouse or partner will inherit the first £250,000 of your estate outright, which may leave your children with little or no inheritance. This is referred to as the sideways disinheritance trap, because the estate moves sideways to the new partner rather than down to the children.

It's possible to make a will that protects your children's inheritance after you remarry, while also providing for your new spouse or partner. Trust wills can be an effective way of doing this.

Find out more about trust wills.

Are inheritance rules different for adopted children?

The same inheritance rules apply to legally adopted children as they do for biological children. Without a will, they are entitled to inherit in the same way as biological children under inheritance rules. If there is a will but they have been omitted, they can make a claim against the estate just as a biological child could.

If a child has not been legally adopted, they will not be entitled to inherit under inheritance rules. The best way to ensure a child is provided for if they have not been legally adopted is to name them in your will.

When making a will, it is important to beware of using terms such as ‘my children’ because this would exclude step-children and children who aren't biological or legally adopted. An invalid or poorly drafted will could mean that a step-child or unofficially adopted child misses out on their inheritance.

We make writing a will easy

Writing a will doesn't need to be complicated when you have a will writing specialist to help you complete the will writing process from start to finish. At Co-op Legal Services our will writing advisors can discuss your wishes, offer guidance and can help you to make a will that’s right for you and your circumstances.

The service I received was first class and extremely painless for what I thought would be a complicated legal procedure. (P.M.)

Check which will is right for you

Different types of will offer different levels of protection and flexibility. Our interactive tool helps you find the option that best suits your needs.