Making a Will Checklist: Estate Planning

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By Cai Bradley
Updated on Friday 6 November 2020

Writing a checklist on a notepad

Knowing what to put in a will isn’t easy, and it’s one of the most important documents you’ll ever put together, so you’ve got to get it right.

We always advise writing a will with a professional will-writing service, but it’s worth knowing what things to consider before starting.

What to consider when making a will in the UK – A checklist

There are many things to consider when making a will, including:

  • Your assets (estate)

  • The distribution of your estate

  • Beneficiaries

  • Trusts

  • Executors

  • Trustees

  • Guardians

  • Any potential claims against your will

  • Inheritance tax

  • How you will make the will

  • Foreign property

  • Family businesses

Your estate

Your estate consists of all of the assets you leave behind when you pass away, including your savings, personal possessions, investments, properties and businesses.

Before writing a will, you should list your assets and write down an estimation of their value, as you may need to refer to this later on for tax planning purposes.

Taking a step back to organise your assets will also help you when determining what you should leave to your loved ones.

How your estate is distributed

It can be difficult to determine how your assets should be divided amongst your family members and/or friends, but the main focal point should be fairness.

How you distribute your estate is entirely down to your personal preferences, but professional will-writing services can help you if you’re unsure.

What are beneficiaries?

When you make a will, you naturally have to decide who gets what parts of your estate. Those people who benefit from your will are called the ‘beneficiaries’.

For many people, they are usually the spouse and children, followed by any other relatives, close friends, or organisations.

You should think carefully about your beneficiaries, as it can become more complicated than you initially think – for example, could your spouse remarry and disinherit the children? Who should inherit if your spouse and children pass away at the same time? What about children from previous relationships? Do you want to leave certain assets or heirlooms to specific relatives?

Regardless of who you want as your beneficiaries, make sure that you cover all bases when writing your will.

Setting up trusts

Setting up a trust is probably the best way to leave money in a will, as it can help avoid inheritance tax legally and also gives you peace of mind knowing that the beneficiaries will use the money in line with your wishes.

You can also leave other assets in trust, such as life insurance.

Executors, trustees and guardians

One of the most important things to consider when making a will is who you appoint as your executor(s), trustee(s) and guardian(s).

  • Executor(s): The person or people who are in-charge of initiating the will when you pass away and carrying out the instructions stated within it.
  • Trustee(s): The person or people who manage the assets within a trust.
  • Guardian(s): The person or people legally responsible for taking care of your children if you pass away before they are 18-years-old.

Protecting against claims

Try to think about whether there is anyone who may try to make a claim against your will following your death.

Certain people can make a claim against your estate under the Inheritance Act 1975, including:

  • Married or civil partners
  • Former married or civil partners who have not remarried
  • Cohabitants
  • Children
  • Dependants who were treated as a child of the family
  • People who were being “maintained” by the deceased

But, it’s important to remember that you can avoid such claims by writing a will with reliable and professional will-writers.

Inheritance tax planning

Without inheritance tax (IHT) planning, all of your estate that is valued above the £325,000 threshold will be subject to 40% IHT, and your loved ones could lose a considerable amount of the inheritance you leave behind.

For example, if your estate is worth £400,000 and your tax-free threshold is the standard £325,000, 40% IHT will be charged on £75,000 of your estate, meaning that £30,000 of it will be deducted.

With a good will-writing company, you could minimise the impact of inheritance tax on your beneficiaries by using legal ways to reduce the official value of your estate.

The best way to make a will

You can make a will in a variety of ways, including:

  • Yourself (using a DIY will template)
  • With a solicitor
  • Using an online will-writing service

We usually recommend using an online will-writing company, as the process is simplified and the majority of the work is done for you.

Putting foreign property in a will

Inheritance rules can differ between different countries, meaning that you may need to seek professional advice if you have any overseas assets, including properties or businesses.

You may therefore need to make a separate, foreign will to avoid any problems or complications arising following your death.

Businesses in a will

Family businesses are generally treated like any other asset – they form part of your estate – but some difficult decisions may need to be made.

You should discuss your plans for the family business with your close relatives before you write your will, as this will give you time to talk about the possible options and reduce the likelihood of any potential disputes arising in the future.

Planning roles and who to leave your estate to

It’s a good idea to get a list together of who will be given the following roles:

  • Beneficiaries

  • Executors

  • Legal guardians

  • Trustees if you set up a trust

  • Attorney if you have a lasting power of attorney

You should think about family, loved ones, close friends, charities and any other organisations you’d like to leave something to in your will – these will be your beneficiaries.

Who you leave what portion of your estate to is entirely up to you – it’s down to you to determine how your assets will be divided in a way that you deem fair.

Questions to ask yourself when planning a will

If you’re struggling where to get started, try to answer the following questions:

  • What is the total value of your estate?
  • Is your estate subject to inheritance tax?
  • Do you have any specific funeral wishes?
  • Who will be your beneficiaries?
  • Do you want to exclude anyone?
  • Who will be your executor(s)?
  • Do you want to write any assets in trust?
  • Do you need to set up a guardianship order?
  • Where will you store your will?

Step-by-step process of drafting a will

Before starting any formal proceedings, it’s worth drafting a will yourself by following this quick step-by-step guide:

  • List who you want to benefit from your estate

  • Organise your assets and determine their worth (roughly)

  • Consider how you’d like to divide your assets

  • Check your inheritance tax obligations

  • Figure out whether you need trusts

Some things – including inheritance tax and trusts – can be difficult to get your head around, so you may want to seek help from a professional will-writing service if you’d rather have someone else take care of all the hard work for you.

Writing a will online can be done quickly and easily, you simply start by entering all your details into a digital form, with each step of the process explained along the way.

For more information about the will-writing process or probate (which must be carried out before your executor can distribute your estate), be sure to read our related guides:


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