Writing or updating your Will

This guidance is applicable to England and Wales only.

Making a Will is the only way to ensure that your money, property and investments (known as your estate) are passed on to the people and causes that you care about when you die.

What is my estate worth?

It’s important to understand the value of your estate. To get an idea of what your estate will be worth, put together a list of everything you own (this includes your home, your savings and life insurance, and your personal possessions) and all of your debts. The value of your estate will be the total value of everything you own, less your outstanding debts.

What decisions do I need to make?

Before you write your Will, you’ll need to decide:

  • who you want to benefit from your Will (this can include charities as well as people)
  • whether you wish to give any specific gifts to particular people
  • how the balance of your estate (after specific gifts) should be divided
  • what you want to happen if any of your beneficiaries should die before you
  • who to want to distribute your estate (known as your executors)

Executors are the people who will distribute your estate after you've died. Being an executor can involve a lot of work and responsibility. It’s important to consider who to appoint carefully, and to discuss it with them before you write your Will, to make sure they’re happy to take on this role.


How do I write a Will?

There are a number of ways to write a Will, from doing it yourself, to using an online Will writing service, to using a professional Will writer or solicitor. The cost of writing a Will depends on which option you choose, and how complicated your personal circumstances are.

It’s usually best to get advice from a lawyer (for example, a solicitor or chartered legal executive). You may wish to speak to a lawyer who specialises in Wills and probate (applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions). Check they are licensed with the relevant professional body, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority or Law Society.

You must sign your Will in the presence of independent witnesses for it to be valid. Once written and signed, you must keep your Will safe, and let your executors know where to find it. You can leave your Will with a solicitor, bank, safely stored at home or with the Probate Service.

Find your local Probate Service through GOV.UK.

How do I update my Will?

You should review your Will every five years and after any major change in your life such as a new grandchild or moving house. Never make alterations on the original document.

If you are making a minor amendment to your Will, you can add a supplement (known as a codicil). This must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the Will, although the witnesses don’t have to be the same as the original ones.

If more significant changes, you should make a new Will and cancel your old one.

What happens if I don’t make a Will?

If you don’t make a Will, you will die ‘intestate’ and your estate may not go to the people you want. There are special rules for how your estate will be distributed these are called intestacy rules.

  • If you have a spouse or civil partner and children, your spouse or civil partner will inherit all your personal possessions and at least the first £250,000 of your estate, plus half the rest. Your children will then be entitled to the other half of the balance.
  • If you have a spouse or civil partner but don’t have children your spouse or civil partner will inherit your whole estate, including your personal possessions.
  • If you and your partner aren’t married or in a civil partnership and you haven’t made a Will, they have no automatic right to inherit from your estate. This applies even if you've lived together for a longtime or have children together.
  • If you have children and your spouse or partner is deceased your children will inherit everything, divided equally between them.
  • If you don’t have a partner or children then parents, brothers, sisters, and nieces and nephews may inherit your estate.

You can find out more about intestacy rules via GOV.UK.


Can I get advice on my existing Will?

As a member of the Society, you can access a range of services via our Member Care Line, completely free of charge. This includes access to a legal adviser for advice and guidance on your rights, and how to deal with various legal situations including Wills and Probate.

If you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland, you can find out more about what happens if you die without a Will by using the links below.