Breaking Taboos - Talking About Wills

Breaking Taboos - Talking About Wills

8th Wed, Jul, 2020

Many people believe that to write a will is to focus on the unthinkable and as a consequence, it is something that many people put off.  Yes, it may seem a morbid topic but a will can be an important way to protect your family and loved ones.   It can save on inheritance tax and help avoid family disputes about how your possessions should be divided.

Worryingly, recent research suggests that more than half of adults don't have a will and 6 out of 10 parents do not have a will or have one that is out of date. 

Below is a basic introduction to wills.

What is a will?

A will is a legally binding document which tells everyone what should happen to your money, property and possessions - collectively called your 'estate' - after you die.

Who should have one?

All adults should have a will but it’s particularly important once you own property, have children, start a business or have savings and investments.   In England and Wales, anyone 18 or over can write a will.

Why should I have one?

Primarily, writing a will enables and empowers YOU to decide what happens to your estate after your death.  If you die without a will (‘intestate’), the law says who gets what and that may not be in line with your wishes.  Some other reasons why you should have a will are covered below.

What should a will include?

A will can cover several topics but details covering the following are common inclusions:

  • who you want to benefit from your will
  • who should look after any children under 18
  • who is going to sort out your estate and carry out your wishes after your death (your executor)
  • what happens if the people you want to benefit die before you
  • what type of funeral you want

Who writes my will?

Wills need to be unambiguous, avoid confusion and uncertainty, and consider the full impact of often complex legislation.  Professional advice should likely be sought if your will isn’t straightforward, for example:

  • you share a property with someone who is not your husband, wife or civil partner
  • you want to leave money or property to a dependant who cannot care for themselves
  • you have several family members who may make a claim on your will, such as a second spouse or children from another marriage
  • your permanent home is outside the UK
  • you have property overseas
  • you have a business

What else do I need to do?

  • you need to get your will formally witnessed and signed to make it legally valid
  • if you want to update your will, you need to make an official alteration (called a ‘codicil’) or make a new will
  • keep your will safe
  • you can keep your will at your home or store it with your solicitor, will writer, your bank, a company that offers the storage of wills
  • you should tell your executor (the person you’ve chosen to carry out your will), close friend or relative where your will is.

What are legacy wills?

Anyone can leave money to a charity in their will – this is known as a legacy.  Some charities use legacies as part of their fundraising activities and gifts in wills are vital to the work of many charities.  You may wish to leave a gift in your will to your favourite charity, to a charity that has objectives close to your heart or a charity that has directly helped to look after your loved ones.  People who leave a legacy often feel that they are 'giving back', that they are helping to ensure that the charity's good work will live on and that they are passing on something of value to future generations.

It’s a little-known fact that many charities wouldn’t survive without gifts in wills.  The donation can be as small or large as you like but every gift makes a big difference, particularly to the less well-resourced small charities.  Check out  

Some charities may wish to help out with the cost of a will:

  • to support the charity’s aims – for example, if the charity supports terminally ill people
  • as a fundraising plan to encourage people to donate in their wills

Legacy fundraising is often a delicate subject but there is guidance available from the Charity Commission and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising. 

Are there professional will advisers?

If you seek professional help to write your will, you should consider accredited providers.  For example, all members of The Society of Will Writers and The Institute of Professional Will Writers must:

  • have training that is regularly updated
  • be insured to cover legal costs if your will is challenged
  • follow a code of practice approved by the Trading Standards Institute

Whilst it may seem like a daunting prospect, by writing a will you can ensure that you have the right people in charge of dealing with your affairs and importantly, it is one of the most significant things you can do to provide for your loved ones beyond your lifetime.