Writing your will: a comprehensive guide if you don’t know where to start

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It may seem like a mammoth task, but a startling increase of younger generations are starting to think seriously about writing their will, after the destabilising events of the pandemic. Here’s an expert guide to get you started.

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It might not be the top thing that we want on our to-do lists, but the importance of writing a will has increased for younger generations. In 2020, the demand for will writing went up by 298% with millennials and by 465% with Gen Z.

The demand peaked from April 2020 onwards, as the escalating lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and we cast about reassessing our lives and finding busy work to while away the time inside. But in a larger sense, it’s safe to say that younger generations are starting to think about what happens after they pass away much more than those before them might have done.

But how do we actually go about it? Ellie Austin-Williams, a financial coach and founder of her own platform This Girl Talks Money that gives women a space to talk about everything to do with finances, stresses how important it is that women know how to write a will, and that they take the opportunity to get it sorted.

“Historically, men have often taken control of all the family administration but now, blended families and different family set-ups are far more common. The law relating to what happens when you pass away hasn’t caught up with these changes, so the only way to make sure your wishes are followed is through a will,” she says. “Women are still predominantly the primary caregivers for children and older generations, so it’s vital to ensure that these family members are looked after if the worst happens.”

What many people don’t realise is the reliance of the process on what Ellie calls “old fashioned” law – it’s all about understanding these structures and making sure you’ve prepared your will with them in mind.

Is there a ‘right’ age to start thinking about this? According to Ellie, “there isn’t a right age”, but there are things you should bear in mind as you get older. “The earlier you write one the better in some respects,” she says. “As soon as you’ve got valuable possessions or a significant amount of money, then you really want to have written one.”

It may be difficult to assess what possessions count as “valuable” from a will writing standpoint – so Ellie says to factor any property you might own instantly, as well as any possessions that might be worth several thousands of pounds, such as a car or expensive jewellery.

From what to write to how often you should update it, here’s Ellie’s comprehensive guide to writing your will.

Key vocabulary to know

Estate

Anything that is owned by a person who has died – property, savings in bank and building society accounts, bonds, pensions, investments, jewellery, antiques and personal belongings such as furniture and household objects.

Executor(s)

The person (or people) who you are entrusting to ensure that your estate is distributed as per your wishes.

Decide how you’re going to write your will

First of all, you don’t have to write your will yourself. There are various services like solicitors or specific will writing services such as Bequeathed; banks who will write it for you if you’d rather. After all, it’s not an easy process to think about these things – so you might find it easier delegating this task to a professional.

But if you do decide to write it yourself, Ellie says that “there is very much a standard form when it comes to wills. Using a print or digital document, set out who you are in first person, make it clear that the document is your ‘last will and testament’, then logically work through your wishes,” she explains.

Here are the questions that she recommends asking yourself as you write your will:

Who do you want to benefit, and what do you want to give them – an amount of money, a share of something or a specific possession?

Who do you want to be your executor?

Are there any charities you’d like to donate to?

Do you have any specific requests for your funeral?

What specific possessions do you want to will: think jewellery, property, pets etc?

Legalities to bear in mind

If you are unmarried and haven’t written a will and you pass away unexpectedly, the laws that are automatically used to sort out your inheritance may not follow with what your final wishes are.

Ellie explains that in the event of your death, the law does not (yet) factor in the fact that not everyone will be married when they pass away.

“Basically, if you live with a partner, and you have children with a partner, that partner will not get your estate when you pass away if you’re not married, or in a civil partnership,” she explains.

How do I make sure my will is valid?

Ellie recommends ensuring that your will document follows the right structure, using templates provided by specific charities like The Red Cross.

“For the will to be valid, it must be signed by the person making the will in the presence of the witnesses, and then the two witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the person who is making the will,” she adds. “You cannot be a witness (or married to a witness) and also inherit under the will, so it’s best to ask someone who is not a close relative, like a work colleague or a doctor.”

What about updating a will?

While Age UK recommends updating your will every five years, Ellie says the most important thing is to consider updating after “big life moments”, such as marriage and having children.

Otherwise, Ellie says, “the law decides what happens – regardless of your wishes or those of your family. This can often result in unwanted outcomes that are perfectly legal, i.e. if you live with a partner who isn’t a spouse or civil partner, without a will they cannot inherit from you.”

What to do when you’ve written your will

It might seem like a laborious – and sometimes upsetting – task, but Ellie insists that being prepared for any eventuality can only be an asset.

“If the last year has shown us anything, it’s that life is unpredictable and there’s no reason to delay planning ahead,” Ellie says.

Speak to a financial adviser registered with the Financial Conduct Authority before taking any financial advice, and think carefully before making any decision. If you have any queries and/or legal concerns while writing your will, please consult a solicitor. 

  • Ellie Austin Williams, financial coach

    Ellie Austin Williams, financial expert
    Ellie Austin Williams

    Ellie is the founder of This Girl Talks Money, a financial education platform which exists to share insights, motivation and knowledge to help women to gain confidence and ownership of their own finances. Alongside building this community, Ellie has appeared as an expert contributor for Monzo, ITV News, Jolt and many more.

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