Making a will: Why is it important and what are the best options?

It's easier to put off making a will than dwell on your own mortality – however, this is one piece of paperwork you won't want to fill out when you're under pressure. We've compiled a list of things for you to consider when making your will

When should I make a will?

As tempting as it is, it's best not to procrastinate as you will have some important decisions to make – such as how your children will be looked after – when you write a will. Before you start, you'll need to find out how much a will in the UK costs, whether you should hire a solicitor or write your own will, and where to keep a will safe.

It's really important to talk about writing your will, as depressing as stuff like this is. The alternative is possibly a long-drawn-out battle between those left behind (worst-case scenario, obviously). If you have children, writing a will is particularly important because it ensures that your wishes are clear about how they are taken care of and provided for in the worst case scenario. Making sure you have everything in order also helps avoid any potential arguments resulting in unnecessary stress for family members during an already difficult time.

Changes made to the intestacy law in October 2014 mean that if you're married without having any children 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.

Related: Protect your family in 30 minutes: professionally-checked will from £90 with

DIY wills and will-writing services

Making a will  - why is it important?

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.

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 hadn't 'noticed'. However, it's vital to follow legal formalities to ensure that your DIY will is valid.

In order for your will to be legally valid you must:

  • Be over the age of 18
  • Make it voluntarily
  • Be of sound mind
  • Make it in writing
  • Sign it in the presence of 2 witnesses, both over the age of 18
  • Have it signed by both of your witnesses, in your presence

It's also worth noting that you cannot leave your witnesses (or their partners) anything in your will.

Will-writing is an unregulated industry, so if you plan to use a will-writing service, look into insurance, and make sure you have skilled willwriters that are members of the Institute of Professional Willwriters. Though you should be aware, this is a self-regulating body where the Legal Ombudsman says regulation is “blurred”, so be extra-careful and take lots of precautions.

Any mistakes can potentially invalidate your will, so although you may save money in the short term, your beneficiaries could end up involved in an expensive court case.
When something is cheap, it can often be too good to be true. A low price can also mean that the company is entitled to receive a percentage of your assets after you die. In practice, this could lead to the loss of thousands of pounds, so it's best avoided at all costs.

Making a will online vs offline

Related: Protect your family in 30 minutes: professionally-checked will from £90 with

I was very pleased with the online will-writing service. My will writer 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. Face to face, online or over the phone – there are many ways to make a will and each have their own set of pros and cons. It's worth taking some time to work out which is right for you. If you've got a particularly complicated set of circumstances you need to iron out, and documents that need to be reviewed, it may be worth forking out for face-to-face.

However, if your requirements are simpler, you might prefer to go through the process online or over the phone.

Should you use a solicitor to draw up your will?

Signing a will - what should you know?

For more complex wills, such as if you own a business or a property overseas, you might want to use a solicitor 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.”

The downside of hiring a solicitor is, unsurprisingly, the cost – which will depend partly upon the complexity of your situation. If you don't already have a family solicitor, you should shop around.

Things to consider when making a will

  • Choosing executors: who will make the arrangements after your death?
  • Distributing your assets: property, cars, belongings, savings and investments
  • What happens if the people you want to benefit die before you?
  • 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?

When do you need to revise your will?

Making a will  - why is it important?

I think the basic rule is, 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/exes/non-married partners. One swift glance at the MN talk boards illustrates that life rarely goes according to plan, and ill health, divorce or remarriage mean you may need to change your will (or make a will, if you haven't already done so).

You can’t actually amend your will after it’s been signed and witnessed. The only way you can change a will is by making an official alteration called a codicil.

You must sign a codicil and get it witnessed in the same way as witnessing a will.

A revision may be necessary following a move, 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.

Following a major change, you should probably make a new will. This new will should explain that it revokes all previous wills and codicils; you should then destroy your old will.

“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.”

How much does a will cost?

I'm a member of UNISON and DH and I got ours done for free. If you're in a union, it might be worth checking if they have the same deal. Wills can cost anything from £30 to £500+ but on average, a professionally drafted standard single will should cost something in the region of £150.

Try to get an upfront fixed fee quotation, which will prevent costs from potentially escalating. You may pay more for a will drawn up by a solicitor so it's good to be prepared.

If you're a member of a union, they may offer a free or very heavily-discounted will service, so it's worth checking. Your job may also provide will-writing as one of its benefits. If you're over 55 and unable to afford a will, then you could take a look at Free Wills Month, a charity initiative which runs every March and October.

Related: Protect your family in 30 minutes: professionally-checked will from £90 with

Where to keep your will safe

How to keep your will safe

Once you have your will, you need to make sure it's stored somewhere safe. Check to see if the fee you've paid includes storing your original will and providing you with a copy, and if not, consider shelling out to pay a one-off or recurring fee for such a service.

If you're looking after it in your safe at home, then make sure that 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.