There are several options open to you. You can write your own will, you can use a standard will form from a reputable stationers, or you can consult an expert. You must, however, be at least 18 years of age (although there are special provisions for younger people serving in the armed forces) and of sound mind.
Writing your own will is possible and, if you do it properly, may be accepted as legally binding. Completing a will form is also possible and is generally safer than attempting to write your own will; there are now also will writing computer programs. If you do decide to draw up your own will, it is advisable to get the finished product checked by a solicitor to make sure that it is correct.
However, if you want to be absolutely certain that your will is legally binding and conveys your wishes properly, then you are advised to take proper advice from a solicitor from the outset as there are various legal formalities that must be followed to make a will valid.
In fact, if your estate is at all complicated - for example, if you live or own a property abroad, own a business, have joint ownership of a property with someone other than your spouse or civil partner, or if your estate could be liable for inheritance tax - then it is essential that you use the services of a properly qualified person.
A solicitor will be able to advise you, not only on matters directly concerning your will, but also on other action that might be appropriate to protect your assets for the eventual use of your beneficiaries. For example, they will be able to advise you on 'powers of attorney', which is when you give a person of your choosing the power to carry out certain tasks or make certain decisions on your behalf should you become physically or mentally incapable of looking after yourself or your affairs. Proper action taken in advance (and backed up by your will for whenever it is needed) can prevent the loss of family assets.
A do-it-yourself will may not be recognised as legally binding because it may not have been drawn up or witnessed properly. Others may also put a different interpretation on words you have used - this could lead to confusion or misunderstanding about your wishes. Using an expert to draw up your will ensures that everything is clear and unambiguous.
A solicitor will also be able to advise you about any aspects of your proposed will that may cause a problem. Thus, for instance, they will advise against attaching unreasonable conditions to bequests, conditions that might be challenged in the Courts.
A solicitor may be able to visit you in your own home, care home or hospital. The cost of writing up a will can vary between solicitors and will depend on how complicated your affairs may be and the experience of the solicitor. It's worth speaking to a few solicitors before you make any decisions. Also, you may have access to legal advice through an addition to an insurance policy, so it's worth checking that out.
If you are a member of a Trade Union, they may have a free will writing service that you can use. Other will writing services exist.
Members of the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) and The Society of Will Writers are specialists in will writing and estate planning - they are required to have passed the IPW entrance examination (or a recognised equivalent); submit a clear Criminal Records Bureau Disclosure; maintain continuous professional development; carry Professional Indemnity Insurance and abide by the IPW Code of Practice, which is approved by the Office of Fair Trading. There are other service providers but they do not necessarily meet the strict criteria of the IPW, and there may be few safeguards if things go wrong.
Depending on their personal and financial circumstances, some people in England and Wales may qualify for free advice about making a will through the Community Legal Advice Scheme - telephone 0845 345 4 345 or visit www.gov.uk/legal-aid/how-to-claim to find out more.
Before you write your will or consult a solicitor, it is a good idea to think about what you want to include in the document (having a clear idea about your wishes may also reduce the costs of preparing your will). You might want to consider the following:
Your will should take into account any property you own jointly. If property is held under a joint tenancy, you cannot leave your share to someone else as it will pass automatically to the other owner. If you own the property under a tenancy in common, you can leave the property to someone else who will then become tenants in common with the other owner.
If you have a joint bank account, money in that account automatically passes on to the other account holder and cannot be left to anyone else.
If you want to leave property to someone who is transgender, you must seek advice as you may have to refer to the person in his or her acquired gender, not their birth gender.
Many people also use their will to state their wishes for their funeral (e.g. burial or cremation, place and manner of service, etc.), which can save your loved ones from having to second-guess your wishes. You may also give your preference for funeral directors or leave information about a funeral plan you may have purchased.
The Importance of Making a Will
How to Make a Will
Executors and Guardians
Inheritance Tax Planning and Advice
Planning Your Funeral
What happens if I die without a will (intestate)?
Advice and Information on Making a Will