How to make a will: your options
None of us want to dwell on our mortality, but making a will isn't something to put off. It's best to make the important decisions - such as how your children will be looked after - when you're not under pressure.
These Mumsnetters spell it out:
- "Don't procrastinate. I know a family in which, sadly, the husband died suddenly before they got around to making a will. It was an incalculable mess. If you love your partner/family, do not leave them with a legal and financial mess as your parting gift." blithedance
- "I think it's really important to talk about it, as depressing as talking about stuff like this is, because the alternative is possibly a long-drawn-out battle between those left behind (worst-case scenario, obviously)." BellaMummy
- "Make sure you specify whom your children should live with, should you and your significant other pass away. Who should be in charge of the money until they reach adulthood, and what age do you want to define as adulthood?" Exexpat
Note: Changes to the intestacy law which came into effect in October 2014 mean that if you're married and pass away without a will, your spouse will receive your entire estate - another reason why it's important to have your intentions in writing.
When it comes to will-making, what options do you have?
1. DIY wills and will-writing services
Faced with not-inconsiderable legal fees, many people opt for a DIY will (high-street supermarkets sell them online). The benefit is that they're quick, cheap and relatively simple, particularly if your situation is uncomplicated.
- "I was very pleased with the online will-writing service, and very impressed with the result for £39. It's a trade off: £150-plus to a solicitor for a simple will (which most people need) is outrageous. I was contacted by a will writer, and was even sent a draft to make sure I approved before anything was done. I only have a few assets and no complex wishes so it was ideal for me." wendyuk321
However, it's vital to follow legal formalities to ensure that your DIY will is valid. At the very least, this means it must be in writing, and signed and witnessed.
- "We had a very bad experience of a will-writing agency. My grandmother died last year and when the will was found, we discovered that it hadn't been signed. The 'company' which had drawn them up for my grandparents (they were both in their early 80s when the wills were written so elderly and frail) hadn't 'noticed'." Gwenick
• Choosing executors: who will make the arrangements after your death
• Distributing your assets: property, cars, belongings, savings and investments
• Settling debts: mortgage, loans, credit cards
• Who will care for children and how will they be provided for financially
• Do you have specific funeral requests
• Are you leaving any donation to charities
If you decide to use a will writer, make sure they are a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters, although be aware that this is a self-regulating body and the Legal Ombudsman says regulation is "blurred".
Mistakes could invalidate your will, so although you may save money in the short term, your beneficiaries could end up involved in an expensive court case.
- "My husband is a probate solicitor and makes more money from sorting out rubbish wills from the likes of such companies than he does from writing decent bespoke wills in the first place!" Hulababy
2. Getting a solicitor to draw up your will
For more complex wills, a solicitor is the professional to whom you should turn. You're paying for their expert knowledge and objectivity.
- "We did ours face-to-face with a solicitor, and I don't regret the money we paid her at all. She brought up a load of things that we wouldn't have otherwise thought of, and we got a really personalised service." MrsTittleMouse
The downside of hiring a solicitor is, unsurprisingly, the cost - which tends to add up, as one Mumsnetter discovered:
- "My mum wanted a solicitor to execute her will because my siblings and I are estranged. The solicitor told her it will cost £230 an hour." blueberrysorbet
Costs vary for solicitors depending upon the complexity of your situation - if you don't already have a family solicitor, you should shop around.
3. Joint and mutual wills
A joint or mutual will is used by married couples or civil partners, but can also be drawn up for unmarried partners. In some cases, a couple will decide to have separate wills but with an agreement to draw up similar or identical conditions.
Alternatively, you could opt for a single will that treats you and your partner as a single entity. A joint or mutual will provides financial security and emotional trust because it ensures there is no ambiguity regarding asset distribution.
- "If my husband dies it all goes to me, and vice versa. Upon the next person's death, it will be split equally between the four children. To me the perceived equality is everything." whoknowswhatthefutureholds
If you subsequently separate or divorce, however, revising your will be a necessary (and expensive) part of the process.
When do you need to revise your will?
One swift glance at the MN talk boards amply illustrates that life rarely goes according to plan, so ill health, divorce or remarriage mean you'll need to change your will (or make a will, if you haven't already done so).
A revision is obviously also necessary following the birth of each child or the addition of stepchildren to your family.
A solicitor is usually needed in complicated cases involving ex-spouses, children from first marriages and stepchildren.
- "Turns out that my partner's idea is that if he dies everything he has will go to the children he has now (from a previous marriage), including the house we live in. I feel like there is a huge divide here, and that his other DC are going to be far more important than any we have. He can't seem to see that you can't treat two sets of children so differently." Slimbo
- "I think the basic rule has got to be, if you have any money at all, you ought to have a will and you ought to have it drawn up by a solicitor, especially if there are children and/or exes and/or non-married partners." Caligula
Last but not least, make sure your will is stored somewhere safe and that your executors know how to get hold of it in the event of your death. It's not much use if you've hidden it 'somewhere safe' and no-one can find it.
Umpteen threads on Mumsnet Talk can help you with the emotional and practical aspects of writing or revising a will. If you can't find what you need, then start your own thread - there are Mumsnetters around 24/7 who will give you the benefit of their experience and expertise.
- Your finances if you are widowed
- Legal rights for unmarried couples
- 10 things you need to know about life insurance
- Back to Family money homepage
Disclaimer: Any content in our family money section is intended as general information only. For specific advice about your personal financial situation, get advice from qualified, independent, regulated professionals.
Last updated: 5 months ago