Making a will
Where there's a will, there's a way for your surviving relatives to be clear about your wishes. And we're talking the big stuff here - who you've chosen as your children's guardian(s) and how they'll be provided for financially if you should die before they're all grown up.
None of us want to dwell on our mortality (with the possible exception of morbid teenagers), but if you put off making a will, you risk all your earning and saving being futile.
Plus, you'll be leaving your partner/family to sort out your property and possessions, and possibly bequeathing your family and friends long-term emotional friction. These Mumsnetters spell it out:
"Don't procrastinate. I know a family who were waiting for that free month, missed it a few times, 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
DIY wills and will-writing services
Faced with not-inconsiderable legal fees, lots of people opt for a DIY will (high-street supermarkets sell them online). The benefit is that they are 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, I 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 - and better than no will." wendyuk321
However, it is vital to follow legal formalities to ensure that your DIY will is valid, which at the very least means it must be in writing and it must be 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
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.
Getting a solicitor to draw up your will
For more complex wills, a solicitor is the professional you should turn to. 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 that 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
Only around 7% of us leave a charitable gift in our will, but charities depend on legacies to continue their work. So remember your favourite charity in your will and you can feel a double glow of virtue - your will is finally made and the good you do will outlive you.
The downside of hiring a solicitor is the cost, which tends to add up, as one Mumsnetter discovered:
"My mum wanted a solicitor to execute her will because we (my siblings and I) are estranged. A solicitor has told her it will cost £230 an hour. blueberrysorbet
Costs vary for solicitors depending upon the complexity of your situation - you could shop around if you don't already have a family solicitor.
Joint and mutual wills
A joint or mutual will is used by married couples or civil partnerships, but can also be drawn up for an unmarried partnership. 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, revising your will be a necessary (if expensive) part of the complicated but essential bureaucracy.
When 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 necessary 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 his 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 just treat two sets of children so differently, with one lot coming out reasonably wealthy and the other lot having nothing simply because they are the second family." Slimbo
And 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.
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.