A Guide to Wills in the UK

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By Grace Hickman
Updated on Tuesday 30 November 2021

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While it isn’t easy thinking about how life will be for your loved ones after you’re no longer here, it is important to ensure that your property and possessions will be passed on to the right people, according to your wishes.

If you don’t have a will in place at the time of your death, the UK law will step in and a set of regulations, known as Intestacy Rules, will dictate exactly what is going to happen to your property and money.

The rules of intestacy will not take any of your preferences or wishes into account, which is part of the reason why writing a will is so important, as it helps to financially protect the loved ones you leave behind.

We highly recommend writing your will online with Wills.Services today to give yourself the peace of mind that you and your loved ones deserve.

What is a will?

Simply put, a will is a legal document that sets out how you want your property and/or belongings (known as your estate and assets) to be distributed amongst your loved ones in the event of your death.

If you need to make sure that your estate and assets are inherited in a way that represents your final personal wishes when you die, write a will as soon as possible for complete peace of mind.

Why do I need a will?

The importance of making a will lies in the control that it gives you over what happens to your estate when you die. By making a will, you can control how your property and affairs will be dealt with in the event of your death, and avoid the uncertainty and possible disputes that would otherwise arise between family members. This can give you peace of mind in the knowledge that the process will be a little easier for your loved ones after you pass away, and everyone knows where they stand.

Making a will also ensures that those closest to you are adequately provided for after you have gone. Your loved ones can feel more secure knowing that steps have been taken to provide them with financial security, and that they will not be required to spend their own money on legal expenses should they want to try and retrieve inheritance without a will in place.

What happens if I don’t have a will? | The rules of intestacy 

If you pass away without a valid will in place (known as dying intestate), the UK law takes over, using a set of rules that fall under The Administration of Estates Act 1925, called the Intestacy Rules.

These rules dictate how a person’s estate (property, money, possessions, etc.) will be divided amongst the family, with the married or civil partner of the deceased usually being first in-line to most – if not all – of the estate. Next in-line is the surviving children, followed by parents, siblings or nieces and nephews, grandparents, and then aunts and uncles. If you have not written a will and none of these relatives are alive, the entire estate will be handed over to the Crown as ownerless property.   

The rules of intestacy often lead to family disputes or dependants suffering hardship when the outcome is against your wishes – something that you probably do not want to happen.

Making a will is particularly important for:

  • Unmarried couples (as their relationship is not recognised under the intestacy rules)
  • Those who are married or in a civil partnership
  • Those who have children from a previous relationship (step children are not provided for under the intestacy rules)

What are the benefits of writing a will?

So why should you consider making a will? There are many advantages of writing a will, such as the peace of mind in the knowledge that your wishes will be properly taken into consideration. More reasons to make a will are as follows:

  • Financial security for your children or loved ones

  • Pay less inheritance tax

  • Appoint guardians for your children

  • Make gifts of possessions (e.g. a car, jewellery or money)

  • You can choose your executors

  • Give personal funeral wishes

  • Arrangements for pets

  • Avoid a lengthy probate process

  • Avoid family disputes over inheritance

  • You can provide for vulnerable family members

  • Avoid any unintended consequences of intestacy (passing away without a valid will in place)

  • If you pass away without any living close relatives, your estate will automatically belong to the Crown or government

If you need help with any aspect of writing a will, Wills.Services offers an abundance of professional will writing services that will help you have the most hassle-free experience possible, from choosing an executor to the technical legalities involved.

Wills and inheritance tax planning

Making a will gives you the opportunity to assess the tax position of your estate, and to consider what steps may need to be taken in order to minimise the inheritance tax that the loved ones you leave behind would be required to pay on your estate (if it exceeds the value of £325,000).

The tax savings that can come with wills far exceed the small cost of actually making one, which, in itself, is enough of a reason to get your will done as soon as possible.

Read our Complete Guide to Inheritance Tax for more information on death tax and see how you can avoid it.

How much does it cost to make a will?

The price of your will depends on a variety of factors, including the complexity of the will and the solicitors you choose.

Before choosing which solicitor you’d like to work with, be sure to shop around and compare prices from a variety of companies, so that you get the most affordable deal.

The cost of writing a single will with Wills.Services is usually £39.99, which is cheaper than the equivalent service from Slater + Gordon (£42) and Co-op Legal Service (£150).  

Note: Remember to make your decision based on the affordability and quality of the service.

Choosing the executor of your will 

Making a will enables you to be in control of deciding who will be responsible for managing your financial affairs and making sure your wishes are carries out after your death.

If you don’t have any family members that you believe are suitable to act on your behalf, it is possible to appoint someone outside your family, such as a solicitor.

Many experts recommend choosing a solicitor as the executor of your will, due to the vast amount of complex responsibilities that come with the role, such as registering the death, valuing the estate and distributing it, handling inheritance tax, clearing any outstanding debts, and so on.

Avoiding inheritance disputes

Unfortunately, dying intestate in the UK means that the intestacy rules must be followed, which could lead to family disputes if someone you care about is not provided for as you wished.

The UK law also enables certain people to be able to make a claim against an estate if they believe the deceased person failed to make reasonable financial provision for them, which could overturn provisions within the will.

Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, a defendant can challenge the distribution of the estate. This claim can be made even if there is a will in place - however, a will provides the opportunity for the deceased to state their wishes and even offer an explanation as to how and why the estate is to be divided in a certain way.

This can be taken into consideration when a Court is assessing any potential claim, or could even prevent a claim from being made altogether.

Do I need a will if I am married?

We know that it is particularly important for unmarried couples to have a will in place to protect their partner, but do you still need a will if you are married or in a civil partnership? Usually, the answer is yes.

If you are married, your wife,  husband or civil partner may inherit most (possibly all) of your estate, and your children might not get anything, depending on its value. This is true even if you are separated, but not if you are divorced. Divorcees do not qualify for inheritance under the rules of intestacy, but those who are only informally separated are still considered a married partner and maintain their inheritance rights.

Under the intestacy rules, if you are married or in a civil partnership and have no children, your spouse will receive everything. So if you wish for others to also benefit from your estate, you need to write a will to make sure that your assets are distributed in a way that you deem is fair.

A will also clarifies exactly what will happen to your estate if your spouse were to pass away before you.

For married couples who have children (whether together or from a previous relationship), the rules state that the spouse will receive all personal possessions, plus the first £270,000 together with interest on that amount from the date of death, plus one half of everything that remains. The children would receive the other half of the remaining estate.

So, for example: If a person has a wife and two children, and their estate is worth £350,000, the wife will receive £310,000 (the first £270,000 plus half of what remains). The children will receive £40,000 to share equally between them, as it is half of the estate’s value over the £270,000 threshold.

Note: Children are not able to receive inheritance until they either reach 18 years old or they are married (or form a civil partnership), depending on which comes first. Until then, a trustee will manage the assets on their behalf.

If you have step-children, the intestacy rules may not protect them in the way that you might wish them to once you’re gone.

By making a will, you can also appoint guardians to look after your children and manage their inheritance (if they are minors), in the instance that both parents died. If you die without a will, the court could appoint this person for you and it’s unlikely that your personal wishes will be taken into account.

Do you need a will when buying a house?

Legally, you are not required to have a will in place when buying a house. However, it does make a lot of sense to have one when you buy a property.

Buying a house is a good reason for having a will, as you can specify exactly who should inherit your house and other possessions in the event of your death.

This ensures that your dependants and/or partners are provided for and protected financially, which is particularly important if they live with you.

This ensures that your dependants and/or partner are provided for and protected financially, which is particularly important if they live with you. Writing a will with a professional service also ensures that your shared properties and joint bank accounts are guaranteed to be inherited by the right people.

If I have no assets, do I still need a will?

Yes, a will is still an important consideration to have in place even if you do not have many assets.

Your ‘estate’ consists of many things: your property (such as a car), the money in your bank account, personal possessions such as furniture or jewellery, and any other valuable and personal items you own. When you pass away, all of your possessions (no matter what they are) still need to be distributed, and you may be surprised by their total value.

You may also have possessions that may not have financial value, but are sentimental to you and could still be left to a loved one in your will. Therefore, whilst you may not own a property or have significant savings, you could have other belongings that can be passed on to family or friends.

When to write a will in the UK

Many people are unsure when they need to have a will and perhaps feel they are too young, but this isn’t something that you should put off.

You must be at least 18 years of age to make a will, unless you are a soldier on active duty, or sailor at sea - in which case, you can be any age.

There is no maximum age limit for making a will, but you must be of ‘sound testamentary capacity’, which means that you must be mentally capable of understanding what you are doing when writing one.

Unfortunately, we never know what's around the corner. There is always the possibility of finding yourself in a position where your mental capacity does not enable you to legally make a will, such as through illness or injury, for example.

It’s always best to be prepared, especially when it comes to protecting your loved ones, but there is no ‘best time’ to write a will – it all depends on your situation.

It is, however, particularly important to make a will or update your existing one at certain milestones in your life, such as when you have a child, so that you can appoint a legal guardian. Getting married also invalidates any previous wills that have been made, therefore it is important to renew your will in that instance. In the event of divorce or if you become separated from your spouse, a new will must be made.

Related articles:

Who Inherits an Estate if There is No Will

What to Do When Someone Dies

Dealing With Someone's Finances After Death

Finding Out the Value of an Estate After Death

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