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What to include when you’re making a Will checklist in the UK

Things you should think about before you make an appointment with a will writer or will-writing solicitor

There are various factors to consider if you’re making a will. The best way to start is by making a Will checklist. You can do this easily by answering a series of questions. Below are some basic questions to get you started.

Once you’ve made your checklist, book an appointment with Bristol Wills & Estate Planning to discuss your requirements. Or search Google for will writers and will writing solicitors near me.

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1. What is the estate value?

Before you decide exactly what you want you Will to say, making a rough estate of the value of everything you own. By doing this, you can determine if your estate will have to pay inheritance tax and if there’s anything you can do to avoid it.

Your estate is everything you own, but the net value of your estate is your assets minus your liabilities. Your assets are everything you own, from bank accounts to property and personal possessions. Liabilities are things like mortgages, loans and any other debts.

What next? As a very basic rule of thumb, consider the inheritance tax allowances as they are today. Single people can pass on £325,000 without paying inheritance tax. If you have a property you’re passing to descendants, you can add another £175,000. Married couples can double these allowances, allowing them to pass on up to £1 million free of inheritance tax when the second spouse passes away.

If you’re near those figures, or over them, you should take tax advice. You can put planning in place to mitigate the tax bill. Please be aware that inheritance tax is a lot more complicated than this, with exemptions and annual gifts to consider. And your £325,000 allowance could be reduced by large gifts you gave away in the 7 years before you die.

Obviously, the value of your estate will change over time. You’ll spend money and give it away. If you have to go into care, some or even all of your assets might be used to pay off care fees. (The current rule is that you have to pay the whole value of care fees if your assets are over £23,250).

On the flip side, you might accumulate wealth through work, savings and being a property owner (house values have gone up 73% on average in the 10 years to January 2023). Tax laws also change, and future Governments could make inheritance tax allowances more generous, or less generous. There’s no way of knowing, so it’s simply prudent to make plans based on today’s rules.

The right kind of will also helps to ensure your estate pay less inheritance tax by making the most of the available tax exemptions.

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2. How do you own property?

If you’re a couple, it’s worth finding out how you own your property. You can find this on your property’s title deeds, which you can purchase online for £3 if you can’t find them, or by asking the conveyancer who acted for your house sale.

If you own your house jointly (as “joint tenants”), it will pass to the other joint owner automatically, regardless of what your Will says.

Some couples own their property as “tenants in common” instead. Often, unmarried couples do this because it means they can sell their share if they split up. If you own your house as tenants in common, it means you can pass on your share of your property in your will.

There is no right or wrong way of owning property – you should simply be aware of how it affects your will. A will writer or solicitor can advise whether your property would pass via your Will as things stand.

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3. Who to appoint as executors

Executors are the people who are legally responsible for carrying out the instructions in your Will. They distribute your estate to your chosen beneficiaries. Their duties include:

  • Locating the Will
  • Securing property and possessions
  • Paying outstanding debts and taxes
  • Obtaining probate
  • Distributing assets according to the will

Executors have a legal duty to the beneficiaries of a will and, as you can probably tell, there is typically a lot of work involved. Moreover, it can take a long time to sort everything out. So you need to choose your executors with care, and of course ask them first so it’s not a huge shock to them when the time comes.

Who can be executors?

You should choose people who are trustworthy and organised. People typically appoint spouses, partners, family members and friends. They must be over 18 and ideally not much older than you. If you can’t think of anyone suitable, you can always appoint a professional executor. A professional executor, such as a solicitor, would charge for their services when the time comes. If you don’t like the idea of your family being tied to one firm or individual, you can always appoint a professional as a reserve instead.

How many executors do you need?

You only need to appoint one executor but it’s best to appoint two because they can share the workload. It means that one will be available if the other cannot act for any reason. Appointing two executors provides greater security as one can check the other’s actions. An alternative to this is to appoint one primary executor with another as a reserve. The only exception to this is if your Will contains a trust, in which case you’ll need to appoint at least two executors to act together and make joint decisions.

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4. Who to appoint as guardians

Have you thought about what would happen if you pass away whilst your children are under 18? If neither parent is left alive, a Court will decide who should look after them until they reach that age.

If you want to control who would look after your minor children, you can do this by appointing guardians in your Will.

Who can be guardians?

You can appoint anyone you trust to bring up your children. Young couples often appoint their parents as guardians, but do be mindful of their age. You’ll obviously need to change your Will if your parents become unfit for the role as they grow older.

Other considerations when appointing guardians are familiarity with your children, where guardians live, their cultural and religious values, and their own family circumstances and finances. You should always ask people if they are willing to be named as guardians in your will because it is such a big responsibility.

How many guardians are needed?

You can appoint a single guardian or a couple if they live together. You can also appoint reserve guardians in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to act if called upon.

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5. Who are your beneficiaries?

Beneficiaries are the family, friends, charities, and other organisations you’d like to benefit from your Will.

You can do this in one of two ways:

  • By leaving gifts of money or specific items
  • By leaving a percentage of your estate.

If beneficiaries are children, you can specify the age at which you wish them to inherit. The default age is 18. You can state a higher age if you wish and it’s fairly common because most parents know what they were like at that age! However, there could be pitfalls of stating a higher inheritance age, which a solicitor or will writer can talk through with you.

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6. Do you wish to leave any gifts?

Gifts to beneficiaries can be: 

  • Named personal items or collections of items such as stamps of jewellery
  • Specific amounts of money
  • Property owned in your sole name

The key thing is that gifts must be identifiable. And if the item is not in your estate when you die, the gift will simply fail (known as “ademption”). No money will be passed on instead.

After gifts are made, the remainder (“residue”) of the estate of administered.

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7. Who benefits from the residue?

In plain English, the word “residue” means something leftover. In a Will, it means whatever is leftover after any gifts have been made. One way of thinking of the residue is to imagine it as a pot that’s divided up into shares or percentages. It is typically split up in percentages. For example, the residue might leave:

  • 100% to a spouse, or
  • Equal shares to children
  • % shares that you specify, e.g., 70% to Person A, 30% to Person B

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8. Do you wish to name disaster beneficiaries?

Most people aren’t aware of this aspect of writing a Will. The disaster scenario considers what would happen if everyone you wish to benefit from your Will has died before you. That may happen in a short space of time rather than several years. It typically comes into play if there’s been a tragic accident that kills several family members at once.

If you don’t name anyone who could benefit in this scenario, your estate would be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. These may not be the people you actually want to inherit.

In a disaster scenario section, also called a longstop, people typically name remoter family members, friends or charities. The biggest single donation to Oxfam (£41 million) was left to the charity in a Will as a result of a tragic helicopter accident.

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9. What are your funeral wishes?

Think of funeral wishes in a will more as guidance for your executors. They are not legally binding – after all, your Will probably won’t even be read until after the funeral. You don’t need to include any wishes in your Will. If you want to, you could state a wish for:

  • Cremation
  • Burial
  • Either of the above plus more specific instructions, including funeral plan details

Whatever you decide, it’s best to discuss your wishes in advance with close family members so that they know what you want, or else leave a letter with your will. Otherwise, they really will be in the dark about what you wanted to happen.

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10. Where will you store your will?

It’s vitally important to keep your Will safe. Despite all the advances in technology, Wills provided by a solicitor or will writer are physical documents and the original Will is the only one that would be accepted.

You might find it strange that Wills aren’t digital but it’s actually a good thing. But consider the old CD-ROMs or storage drives you were using 10-20 years ago. Are they all accessible? Do they even work with the computer you have now? Similarly, cloud services rely on passwords and the provider not going out of business. 

But the problem remains that a Will that is missing or cannot be found is no use at all. Moreover, it must be in pristine condition to avoid complications when following your wishes.

For these reasons, I recommend paying for secure Will storage. Executors are informed of the Will’s location and a monthly fee is charged by direct debit, providing further evidence that a storage service is being used. Some services will also register Wills on “Certainty”, the National Will Register.

Where to store your Will is one factor to consider when making a Will checklist in the UK.

11. Do you need a trust?

Basic wills are typically the kind of will you can get online, as well as through solicitors and will writers. But the most basic (cheapest) kind of will may not always be the best option.

What if, after the death of one spouse or partner, the survivor gets married or changes their Will? Potentially, children could be disinherited.

And what if your beneficiaries inherit at a difficult time? For example, they might be going through a divorce or bankruptcy. Anything they inherit could go straight out of the door in a divorce settlement, for example.

The way around this is to add protection in the form of a Trust to control:

  • Who inherits
  • What they inherit
  • When they inherit
  • How they inherit

How do you know if you need a trust?

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, putting a trust in your will is a good idea:

  • Do you have a new spouse/partner and children from a previous relationship, and you wish to benefit all parties?
  • Does your spouse/partner have children from a previous relationship who they wish to benefit?
  • Are you concerned that your spouse or partner could remarry after your death, eroding your children’s inheritance?
  • Are you concerned that your spouse or partner may need care after your death, eroding your children’s inheritance?

Some kind of trust in your will is a good idea if you are concerned that any of the beneficiaries might:

  • Squander the assets they inherit
  • Get divorced
  • Go bankrupt
  • Be too young to inherit

A trust can be useful if beneficiaries:

  • Have a disability, learning difficulties, or are unable to manage money
  • Receive means-tested benefits?

A trust in your will can be useful if you wish to leave one or more of your children:

  • A smaller share of your estate
  • Nothing (i.e., you wish to exclude them)

If you are unmarried, a trust can be useful if:

  • You intend to leave your partner an estate worth more than £325,000

If you’ve been widowed, a trust can be useful if:

  • You intend to leave your new spouse/partner an estate worth more than £650,000.

If you think a trust could fit your circumstances, get some advice from a will writer or solicitor. It’s highly unlikely that you can get a cheap of free will online that contains a trust. A professional will produce a bespoke document to suit your circumstances.

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12. Do you have overseas property or assets?

Do you have property or assets outside the UK?

You Will either needs to account for those or ensure it doesn’t conflict with a will you’ve made in another country.

This is a complicated area and something you probably won’t be able to do with a free will online because the questions typically don’t go into this kind of detail. A solicitor or will writer can advise.

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13. Are you excluding anyone?

Do you want to exclude anyone from benefitting from your will?

This is a highly contentious aspect of making a Will. On the one hand, it’s your legal right to exclude someone. On the other hand, certain people are perfectly entitled to make a claim against your estate (even though such a claim may not succeed).

Even though you may not care what happens after your death, it’ll be your family members who are left with the consequences. If you’re thinking of leaving someone out, or leaving them a smaller share than others, it’s advisable to take advice from a solicitor or will writer.

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    Making a Will checklist is a great starting point. Once youve assembled all this information, it will help you clarify your thoughts. And the process will be a lot easier when it comes to discussing it with a professional.

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      How to use this information

      This article represents our understanding of the law and tax rules at the time it was published (2024). It provides general information and is intended as a starting point for further research and conversations. Please seek competent professional advice before taking any action in relation to Wills and estate planning. Bristol Wills & Estate Planning Ltd is not liable for any errors or omissions on this page or for any actions taken as a result of reading this information.

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