Let’s talk, ‘Making a Will 101’. In particular, answering some of the most-asked questions on this subject including ‘What is a Will?’, ‘Why do you need one?’, and ‘How do you make one?’ Plus, my number one top tip when it comes to making your Will – I think it’s something that everyone needs to know.
A Public Announcement (aka, a disclaimer)
Anything involving the law can be tricky at the best of times and Wills are no exception. It’s important that you know I do not have a legal background. I’m not a lawyer or solicitor, I am not a will writer; I have no legal training of any kind.
As an End of Life Planning Coach, it’s my job to work with people and help them understand what they need to put in an End of Life Planning document. And one major component of that your legal documentation .
So it’s important to talk about Wills and other legal papers but please do your own due diligence. As with any legal matter, consult an appropriately qualified person to help you with your own individual situation – I’m not that person. With the warm-up act out of the way, let’s move on to the main event.
What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document recognised in law by the State with regards to your wishes around what happens to your property – your estate – when you die.
Wills only comes into effect after death and they allow you to specify everything you want to happen to your property, your belongings, and your possessions.
Wills also provide a mechanism to give instruction around who you would want to look after your children, if they are under the age of 18 (in England and Wales – check the law in your country) at the time of your death.
Why do you need to make a Will?
You need to make a Will so that everything that you own at the time of your death doesn’t end up in the either that is the State.
You probably have some pretty strong views on what you would like to happen to your to your possessions and even stronger views on who you would like to care for your children, if that applies to you.
This is why you make your Will, so that you don’t leave it to chance.
There are quite a lot of people out there who think that it’s completely obvious as to who would inherit their estate if they were to die. And honestly, they may be right. But it’s just as possible that they are wrong.
Never make assumptions about the law. Ever. Because unless you write down your wishes in exactly the way the law recognises, there is a strong possibility that your estate will not end up where you would want it to. Which neatly brings us to the next question…
What Happens If You Die Without a Will?
If you die without a Will, that’s known as dying ‘intestate’. Yes, I know, It’s a horrible word but unfortunately we have to roll with it because there aren’t any other words with the same meaning.
Dying intestate means that now your property and your belongings essentially go to the State. Of course, there are mechanisms in place to ultimately stop that happening in many, many cases.
But it does mean that perhaps there are some people in your life that you would not wish to benefit in any way from your death, yet may do so if they have some kind of legal claim that they can make.
So if you die intestate – if you die without a Will – you are essentially offering up everything that you own to no-man’s-land. Of course, the way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to … Make a Will!
How Do You Make a Will?
I’d suggest that there are three options on the table for this which are as follows:
Option 1 – Write Your Own
The first is that you could write your own. There are templates out there, both online and offline, to enable you to make a Will. If your affairs are really quite simple, with no complexity involved, then it is possible that you could use one of these templates to write your own Will.
However, whilst you could DIY your own Will, I would really caution you against it. So much can go wrong and unless you have a legal background, there is a strong possibility that things will not work out as you intended.
I don’t think writing your own Will is a good idea and it’s not one I would encourage but it would be remiss of me not to mention it is an option.
Option 2 – Use a Solicitor/Will-writer
Option two is probably the one that most people are familiar with when thinking of making a Will, namely, going to a lawyer/solicitor, or a trained will writer, and ask them to make your it for you.
This is almost certainly the safest option, but it can generate a little bit of reticence amongst people, especially because of the potential costs involved.
My suggestion is to treat this as you would any other considered purchase and ‘shop around’. There are many people qualified to do this which means there is lots of choice. You don’t necessarily have to opt for the first person that you meet because they may not be the right person for you.
Meet with several different solicitors/will-writers and find the one that you feel the best connection with. You want the person who is really going to help you to write down your wishes and give you the peace of mind you’re looking for when making your Will.
Option 3 – The Hybrid
There is a third option and this is one that I think is very much worth exploring, especially if you’ve not yet made your Will. I call it the Hybrid Option.
You can take many of the initial steps involved in making a Will autonomously and at little-to-no initial cost. There are many online tools and resources now available to walk you through the Will-making process and a number of legal firms and organisation offer this via their website.
The process is broadly similar in each instance; you are guided through a series of questions, asked to provide information about your estate and circumstances and this provides the basis for your Will and is generally a service offered for free – right up until the point where the document itself is actually created.
It’s only then at that point do you pay any money. I think there is value in this version of the Will-making process for many people. It allows you the time that you need to take to think about everything and get it all in order. You can ask questions and review your choices.
It also allows you can share your thinking with the people around you and facilitates a really considered, informed document which is what a Will should be.
At the point where it needs to be converted to a legal document and reviewed through that lens, then you pay for the service, the cost of which will vary from person to person. But it’s likely that you will have come to establish a relationship with the person or the company you’re working with by that point.
They will have a fairly good idea of whether anything needs to be changed and point that out to you as well as knowing you well enough to be able to offer a really bespoke, customised service. I think this hybrid option has a lot to offer and one that I would encourage you to look into.
Top Tips for Making A Will
When it comes to writing your Will, it’s not a one-and-done process, even if it feels that way at the time. It’s vital that you review your Will to make sure that it remains current, accurate and continues to reflect your wishes.
If there is any life-changing event in your world – birth, marriage or death amongst others – your Will could become invalidated or void. So it’s a really good idea to schedule an annual review, on top of any big event, just to make sure it still says what you want it to.
However, my number one top tip concerns…
… your Letter of Wishes.
Many people, when writing their Will, also write their Letter of Wishes. It’s not a legal document, but it captures all the things that don’t need to go in the Will, but that are important to you for example, the wishes for your funeral.
The tip is this: do NOT keep a sole copy of your Letter of Wishes with your Will.
The reason for this is because the vast majority of Wills do not get read until after the funeral. If you have some specific funeral wishes that nobody knows about until after it’s happened, there’s a really good chance that the funeral you get is not the funeral you would have wanted.
Plus, your loved ones are going to feel terrible, possibly for quite some time. But this is avoidable. By all means keep your Letter of wishes with your Will, if stored with a solicitor.
But make sure that you have your own copy. Distribute it. Give it to other people so that they have access to it at the time that they need it, enabling them to honour the requests you made.
A Will, at its core, sets out what happens to your stuff once you’ve died. If you die without a Will, you risk your property and belongings not ending up where you wanted them to. Why take the chance?
There are different ways that you can make your Will. I highly encourage you to get a qualified solicitor, or will writer, to walk through this process with you. But you don’t need them right from the get-go. Spend some time deciding what it is that you want to leave and what you want to happen to it. That’s the point to get a professional involved.
And make sure you review your Will when there’s some kind of family/life-changing event but at the very least, annually.
If you want some more information on Wills, check out the free ‘5 Things’ information sheet on this site. It will signpost you to other resources and organisations that you might find helpful – when it comes to making your Will, too much research is never a bad thing!
Until next time, take care.