How do I write a will?

Writing a will can seem like a daunting task which is why it’s one job we tend to put off. This guide explains what you need to know about how to write a will.

Mature woman working at home
(Image credit: getty images)

Writing a will can seem like a daunting task which is why it’s one job we tend to put off. This guide explains what you need to know about how to write a will.

Writing a will is a simple but effective way of protecting your loved ones financially after you pass away.

Unfortunately, many of us need a nudge to get around to writing a will, with 41% saying they only made a will after a change in family circumstances, according to a report for the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

It’s also something that needs to be done properly. Jotting down your last wishes and leaving them in a sealed envelope in your desk drawer may seem like the easy option, but this could result in your will being invalid. And dying without a valid will in place could be costly for your loved ones. Here's what you need to know about writing a will.

How do I write my will? 

The first step in writing a will is to go through the assets you own, and think about who you would want to benefit from them after you pass away.

“Add up everything you own, from property to investments and pensions along with what you owe in the way of debts, like mortgages, to work out the value of your estate,” says Emma Prince, financial adviser at Quilter (opens in new tab).    

“Think about what you have and how you’d like it to be distributed. You may want to make gifts to certain people, say an engagement ring, or leave some money to charity.”

Finding someone to write your will is the next step.  There’s no shortage of organisations who can help with will writing, such as solicitors, will writing services, charities and banks.

Who you choose is hugely important as ‘will writing’ services are generally not regulated, while solicitors (opens in new tab) are. What’s more, they can also offer guidance on inheritance tax issues.

If you decide to use a will writing service, check if they belong to an organisation like the Society of Will Writers (opens in new tab) or Institute of Professional Willwriters. (opens in new tab)This ensures that you can expect a certain standard of service, as well as offering a proper complaints route should something go wrong. 

Can I write my own will? 

There’s nothing to stop you writing your own will, and you can even buy DIY will writing packs for less than £20 from places like Amazon (opens in new tab) or WHSmith (opens in new tab)

However, unless you know what you’re doing, you may make mistakes that have costly repercussions. 

“Wills are legal documents and people often get things wrong over the formality.  I always say solicitors make more money from sorting out DIY wills than drawing up new ones,” says Gary Rycroft, partner with legal firm Joseph A. Jones & Co. (opens in new tab)

“The job of a solicitor isn’t just to be a ‘scribe’ - they may suggest things you haven’t thought of, and it’s the advice and added value you will get from using a solicitor that makes them worth using.”

If you don’t have a valid will in place, then your estate will be divided up based on intestacy rules. The beneficiaries from the will are selected based on a legal hierarchy, with blood relatives taking priority. This could mean that loved ones are excluded, for example if you have a long-term partner but are not married or in a civil partnership.

Do I need a solicitor to look after my will? 

If you use a solicitor to draw up your will, they will look after it for you, although you may want to keep a copy yourself in a safe place. 

“Solicitors shouldn’t charge you for keeping your will, but do tell your family where it is, as there’s no central database for wills”, says Gary Rycroft. 

“You can also lodge your will with the Probate Registry (opens in new tab) -  which is a Government agency, rather than a commercial one and there’s a £20 charge for this”.  

This service applies across England and Wales with different options in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If you have made your own will, or used a will writing service, you could ask your bank to store your will safely, although a fee may be charged.

What help can I get with writing a will? 

The general rule is the more advice and help you get, the more you will likely have to pay. 

While you can pay from £80 for a basic will, a more complex one may cost upwards of £500 according to consumer group Which?

Some banks, including Natwest (opens in new tab) and TSB (opens in new tab), offer a will writing service but it’s important to check the level of advice you get. While Natwest has partnered with a firm of solicitors, in TSB’s case customers are offered access to Farewill (opens in new tab), which is an online will writing service.   

Some companies offer employees access to a will writing service at a reduced cost. What’s more, certain trade unions ‒ including Unison (opens in new tab), the NASUWT teachers’ union (opens in new tab) and Unite (opens in new tab) ‒ offer members a free will service for basic wills, along with a reduced cost service for more complex ones.

Many charities also offer free will writing services and the annual Will Aid campaign is a chance to have your will made, or updated, in exchange for a donation to charity.

Sue Hayward

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound.  Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!