Making a Will
Every adult should make a will. Even if you do not have a lot of money or property, you still need to have a will if you want to be sure that your affairs are dealt with after your death in accordance with your wishes. If you die without making a will, then your money and property are divided up in accordance with set rules.
You have certain legal obligations to your spouse/civil partner and your children, but apart from that you can do what you like with your money and property.
You can make a will without going to a solicitor. However, if you have a lot of property or your affairs are complex, you should go to a solicitor. For example, if you are separated and in a new relationship, you may need legal advice about what you can do in a will. If you have a child with a disability and you want to make arrangements for that child’s future income, you should get legal advice. If you have substantial money or property, you should get advice on the tax implications involved.
How to make a simple will
You can make a valid simple will by setting out your wishes clearly and making sure that you follow the rules regarding signatures and witnesses. A will is valid if the following rules are kept:
- The will must be in writing.
- You must be over 18 or have been or be married.
- You must be of sound mind.
- You must sign or mark the will in the presence of two witnesses.
- Your two witnesses must sign in your presence.
- Your two witnesses cannot be people who will gain from your will – they cannot be the beneficiaries named in the will. It is advisable not to have family members witness your will because even if they are not named as beneficiaries, they could become beneficiaries if the family members named die before you do.
- The two witnesses must be present with you at the same time when you sign and they sign that they witnessed your signature.
- Your witnesses must see you sign the will but they do not have to see what is written in it.
- Your signature must be at the end of the will.
These are legal requirements. If any of them is not met, the will is not valid. If you want to change your will after you make it, you can add a codicil (amendment or change) to your will; this codicil must meet the same requirements set out above.
The wording of the will
It is important that you set out your wishes clearly. You can use ordinary language. The will should have the following:
- Your name and address.
- A statement that says you revoke or disown all earlier wills or codicils, such as “I hereby revoke all previous wills and testamentary instruments made by me and declare this to be my last will and testament”.
- A clause or section of your will that appoints one or more executors – they are people who will carry out your wishes in your will after you die – and stating these executors’ names and addresses.
- A clause or several clauses stating what you want to happen to your property and money.
- A residuary clause, which is a section in your will that sets out how property and money not effectively dealt with in the will should be distributed. This is important because specific bequests, such as “I leave x.. to Sean Murphy” can fail (be considered invalid), and then revert to the residue to be decided by this residuary clause. Your residuary clause could say that anything not covered in your will would be a gift or legacy to someone, like “The remainder of my estate I leave to my son, John”.
- Your will should be dated and signed by you and your witnesses. Usually, these signatures are underneath a line in the will that states “Signed by the testator in the presence of us and by us in the presence of the testator”. This statement is called an attestation clause.