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Making a will and planning what to leave

When making your will, think about how much you have to leave and who gets what. This guide will help you work out the basics, so you can get started with writing your will.

Making your will – step by step

Before you can write a will, you need to decide who gets what.

Set down the basics of your plan for your money and possessions – your estate – early on, before you visit a solicitor or discuss your will with your family.

Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds – just follow this step-by-step process.

Step one – make a list of who you want to benefit from your estate

It’ll probably take you just a few minutes to tick off this step – you can even do it right now.

You might include:

  • your partner or spouse or civil partner
  • children and other family members
  • friends
  • charities.

These people (or charities) are called your beneficiaries.

Step two – write down your assets and roughly what they’re worth

Start with assets that are easiest to value:

  • savings
  • valuable objects, like jewellery or heirlooms.

Then move on to the things that change in value. These will be harder to estimate exactly.

They include:

  • your pension
  • your business, if you own or part-own one
  • stock market investments — shares, bonds & funds
  • property – your house, plus any investment properties, land, or even a parking space that you own. Remember to factor in the value of any outstanding mortgage or other loans secured against your property.

Lastly, think about any sentimental items that you want particular people to have.

Whether you can include your pension will depend on the rules of your pension scheme . You should also check that your pension scheme knows who you want your pension to go to - don't just rely on this being in the will. 

 

Step three – think about how you want to split your money and property when making your will

There are broadly five types of legacy you can leave.

  • “I leave £2,000 to my son” – this is called a ‘pecuniary bequest’. It means you leave a fixed sum of money.
  • “I leave my jewellery to my daughter” – this is called a ‘specific bequest’. It means you leave a specific item which you own. The way to identify it will be to see what meets that description at the date of death. If there’s no jewellery at that time, then the gift will fail.
  • “I leave half my estate to my brother” – this is a ‘residuary bequest’. It means you leave a percentage of whatever your estate is worth after any debts, costs, liabilities, legacies and tax have been paid.
  • “I leave my share of my house to my wife if she survives me, but if she does not survive me then it will pass to my daughter” – this is a ‘reversionary bequest’ for your daughter. You can specify what happens if the person you leave it to dies.
  • “I leave my share of my house to my wife for the rest of her life, and then it will pass to my daughter” – this creates a ‘trust’ over your share of the house. A trust allows you to say who you would like to benefit from your property immediately after your death (for example, your wife), and then who you would like to benefit from your property (for example, your daughter) once the first person you’ve chosen to benefit immediately after your death has died. This type of gift can easily go wrong, so you’ll need to get legal advice if you want to include a ‘trust’ in your will.

If your affairs are comparatively simple (for example, you want to leave everything to your husband, wife or civil partner), it’s likely you’ll just use simple residuary bequests.

If things are more complicated, you’ll probably use a combination. For example:

Mike is married with one son. His wife has a son too, from a previous marriage. He leaves:

  • his share of his home to his wife for the rest of her life
  • £1,000 to each of his grandchildren
  • his watch to his wife’s son
  • anything else in his estate to a charity.

June is divorced with three children and four grandchildren. Her son has mental health problems. She leaves:

  • £500 to each grandchild
  • half the remaining estate in a trust for her son for the rest of his life, to be split between her daughters on his death, and
  • a quarter of the estate each to her daughters, but if any daughter dies before her, that daughter’s children will receive the dead daughter’s quarter share of the estate between them.

Step four – check if you’ll have to pay Inheritance Tax

There is normally no tax to be paid if:

  • the value of your estate is below the £325,000, threshold or
  • you leave everything above the threshold to your spouse or civil partner, or
  • you leave everything above the threshold to an exempt beneficiary such as a charity.

The allowance can be transferred to a spouse or civil partner if it isn’t used up on the first death.

There is also an additional threshold for your home.

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The rules aren’t straightforward. So, you’ll probably want to get professional advice to help with this.

Think about protecting your beneficiaries

Sometimes you might want to set some safeguards on your bequest – for example, if you’re leaving something to a child or someone with disabilities or mental health issues.

Many people handle these issues by setting up trusts: this means that what you leave can be managed by people you trust to act in the best interests of your beneficiary.

Either for good or until a time when they can look after themselves.

What to do once you’ve made your will

Once you’ve worked through the steps, you’ll have a reasonably clear idea about what you want to leave in your will and to whom.

You might want to talk to your family about your choices. 

Your next step is to get your will drawn up.

If your estate is quite simple (for example, you’re simply leaving everything to your partner), you can probably do it yourself.

But if your situation is even slightly more complex, it's sensible to take advice from a solicitor.

Talking to your family about your will

If you want to avoid family arguments, both now and after you’re gone, it’s worth considering having ‘the talk’ with them about your wishes.

It’s your chance to explain what you’re doing, and help your family understand why you think it’s best.

Nobody enjoys having to talk about death, but here’s how to make the conversation as easy and conflict-free as possible.

Preparing for ‘the talk’

Decide on your wishes

Writing your will shouldn’t be about who deserves what – it's about what you want your money to achieve.

Start by writing a list of your main priorities.

Your priorities might be things like:

  • making sure that your partner is provided for
  • looking after a relative with an illness or disability
  • ensuring your grandchildren get the best education
  • supporting a charity you care about.

When you’ve decided what you want to happen after your death, it will be much easier to work out what to leave and to whom.

It will also help you explain your thinking to your family.

Write a rough draft of your will

It will help to focus the conversation will  if you have a basic draft of your will, or at least some notes.

That way, you can talk about what you want, rather than have everyone else telling you what they want.

Nobody can tell you what to put in your will, it’s your decision who should receive what.

Set a time to talk

It can seem morbid arranging a special family meeting to talk about death.

If you think it’ll make people uncomfortable, don’t do it.

Instead, maybe try setting aside a little time during a family event.

Let your family know in advance that you’d like to talk about your will at that time – it makes it less of a mood killer, and gives them a chance to think things over first.

During the conversation

Explain what you want to achieve

This is the time to set things off on the right foot.

Explain there are reasons for the legacies you plan to leave. This helps your family understand your point of view, and gives people an idea of what to expect before you go into detail.

If you focus on what you want your legacy to achieve, rather than simply the pounds and pence, it can sidestep a lot of conflict.

Explain the details of your plan

Don’t forget to link these details back to your goals.

Try phrases like: “We agree that John will need support in future, so I plan to leave him half my estate.”

Ask for suggestions and opinions

You might find that some of your family have specific expectations about your will – encourage them to be open about this so you can understand.

It’s your decision in the end, but others might have some good ideas about how to look after family and friends that you haven’t thought of.

They might also care a lot about a particular sentimental object.

Stress that it’s ‘for now’

Many things might happen between your conversation and the end of your life.

New babies might arrive or you might lose someone in your family.

You can change your will when these things happen. Reassure your family that you’re prepared to review and reassess as things change.

Remember to be as tactful as you can

Many family relationships can be a bit rocky, and discussing wills and inheritances can bring this out into the open.

Make it clear that this isn’t about criticising people – it’s about what you want to happen to your assets when you’re gone.

Of course, some of your decisions might be based on who you like and don’t like – but saying so won’t do you any favours.

Instead, try explaining that the money would do better elsewhere.

Again, this will be much easier if you are clear on your wishes.

Afterwards

Review your plan

You can review your plan after you’ve had the conversation – it might have just reinforced what you want to do or it might have given you some good ideas about changes you want to make.

Write or update your will

After talking things through and taking your family’s ideas on board, you’re ready to go to the next stage – writing your will for the first time or updating an existing will.

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MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

Continue to website
Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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