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How to write a will
1. Value your assets and liabilities
The first step in writing a will is to work out what you own and what it's worth. You should make a list of all the major items - including your home, shares, investments and insurance policies. Making this kind of list will save you time and money when you visit your solicitor. Your next step is to write a list of everything you owe. This will include any mortgages, bank loans and other debts that will have to be repaid.
2. Decide who will benefit
The friends and family who you include in your will are known as beneficiaries and you will need to decide what you will leave to whom. Your list will probably include family, friends and a charity or two. By leaving a legacy to charity, you can make a real difference to the lives of people and animals. And don't you think your family and friends would be proud that, as well as remembering them, you also chose to support some worthy causes?
Your executors are the people who will make sure that the instructions in your will are carried out. You can choose up to four executors, but it is advisable to have at least two. It is not recommended, but if you do decide to appoint only one executor, then your will should include someone as a substitute, in case the executor dies before you, or is unable or unwilling to act. An executor can be a family member, a friend, your solicitor or bank manager. And it doesn't matter if they are also beneficiaries of your will.
4. Decide which type of legacy you will leave
There are three types of legacy you can leave in your will. Your solicitor will explain them in more detail but here are some brief details.
A specific legacy is an object that you leave to a named person - anything from a house to a favourite painting.
A gift of a set sum of money is known as a pecuniary legacy.
After all specific and pecuniary legacies have been made, everything that is left over is called the residue and can be given away as one or more residuary legacies. These are expressed as a percentage of the residue. A residuary legacy is an extremely effective way to help a favourite charity.
5. Choose a charity
By leaving a legacy to charity, you can make sure that your support for a favourite cause continues when you are gone. Charities often rely on legacies to expand and improve their work. They depend on them to set up new projects and do even more to help people, animals and the environment. You can use our search facility to look up the details of a favourite charity or to find one that does the kind of work you want to support.
6. The effects of tax
HM Revenue & Customs will take a share of your estate over the value of £325,000. This figure was set in the 2010 budget and it will be subject to change. Some bequests are exempt from inheritance tax - including property left to a spouse. If your assets are likely to be affected by inheritance tax then it is essential that you seek professional advice from an accountant, solicitor or bank manager. You can actually reduce the amount of tax you have to pay by leaving a legacy to charity. Your solicitor will explain how this works.
7. Find a solicitor
Writing a will is a complicated process so seek the advice of a solicitor. It's not expensive and it will prevent a simple mistake from making your whole will invalid. If you don't have a solicitor, there are several ways you can find one.
- You can ask friends and relatives if they have a solicitor they would recommend.
- The Law Society’s online Find a Solicitor service will help you find a solicitor near you.
- You can look in the Yellow Pages for solicitors that specialise in writing wills.
- You can look in a directory of solicitors at your local library or Citizen's Advice Bureau.
8. The final steps
Your will must be witnessed by two people, a witness can be a friend, a bank manager or your solicitor but neither of them can be beneficiaries or married to a beneficiary. Keep a copy of your will and all the financial paperwork relating to it for reference and make sure your family know where it is. And keep the original somewhere safe. Your solicitor will usually store your will for free.
9. Changing your will
Marriage, divorce, moving house or new members of the family can all mean changing your will. Fortunately, you don't have to rewrite the whole thing. Instead, you can change your will using a Codicil. Your solicitor will be able to tell you more. And you can, of course, use a codicil to leave a legacy to a favourite charity.