5 common mistakes when writing a will that a solicitor could help you avoid


A woman signing paperwork.

A will provides a way to state who you’d like to receive your assets when you pass away. While you don’t need to work with a solicitor when writing a will, doing so could help you avoid mistakes. 

Will Aid is taking place in November and may be the perfect time to write your will while supporting good causes. 

Every year, participating solicitors volunteer to waive their usual fee for writing a basic will. Instead, they invite clients to make a voluntary donation to Will Aid. The donations support a variety of charities, including Age UK, the British Red Cross, and Save the Children.

Choosing to work with a solicitor when you’re writing your will could help you avoid mistakes that may mean your estate isn’t distributed how you want or could lead to probate taking longer. 

Here are five mistakes that affect some wills. 

1. Your wishes aren’t clear enough

Using ambiguous language in a will can make distributing your estate much more difficult. Vague or contradictory wishes may lead to confusion about your intentions. In some cases, it may mean your wishes aren’t carried out.

You should ensure your will clearly specifies the assets you’re referring to and sets out your wishes in a way that’s easy to understand.

You may also want to consider what would happen if an asset changes. For example, if you intended to leave a property to one beneficiary but have since sold it, should they receive the cash equivalent?

As a will may cover a lot of assets and beneficiaries, it can be difficult to write a will that’s precise if you’re not a professional, especially if your wishes are complex. 

2. You don’t consider all your assets

Estates can be complex and it’s easy to overlook some of your assets. Many people will include their main assets, like property or a savings account, but other items may go unnoticed when writing your will. Perhaps you have some Premium Bonds or artwork you’ve forgotten about.

Carrying out a financial review before you write your will may help you better understand the assets that make up your estate.

Financial planning could also forecast how the value of assets may change during your lifetime, which might affect how you want to distribute assets to loved ones. 

3. You don’t account for beneficiaries passing away

One of the challenges of writing a will is that you need to consider what may happen in the future. If a beneficiary passes away before your estate is settled, who would you want to inherit your assets?

Usually, if a beneficiary passes away, the assets they were due to inherit will be kept within your estate and distributed to surviving beneficiaries, which may not align with your wishes. 

4. You don’t appoint an executor

An executor is the person who will deal with the administration of your estate when you pass away. Their duties will include carrying out your wishes in accordance with your will.

It’s an important role, but some people overlook naming an executor. Your will would still be valid in this case, but someone will need to apply to become the administrator or a court may ask someone to take on the role. It could delay the probate process.

You can choose someone you know personally to be the executor. It’s often a good idea to speak to the person first to ensure they’re happy to take on the responsibility and understand what’s involved. You may also choose a professional executor, such as your solicitor. 

5. Your will isn’t signed or witnessed correctly

A common error when writing a will without support is that it isn’t signed or witnessed correctly. It may mean your will is invalid and, rather than being distributed according to your wishes, intestacy rules would apply. 

Your two witnesses must be over the age of 18 and shouldn’t be family members. They and their spouse also shouldn’t benefit from your will in any way. You must sign your will in the presence of your witnesses, who should also sign it, as well as write their full names, addresses, and occupations. Finally, you should date your will. 

Regular reviews of your will may be just as important as writing one

Once you’ve written your will, don’t simply put it to one side and forget about it.

During your life, your wishes and circumstances may change, which might mean you need to update your will. Whether you want to make provisions for a new grandchild, or the value of your assets has increased, regular reviews may help ensure your will continues to reflect your wishes. 

It’s often a good idea to review your will after major life events or every five years.

If you need to make changes, there are two options:

  1. A codicil is added to your existing will. It must be signed and witnessed. While there are no limits to how many codicils you can add or what they can cover, significant changes or several small alterations can make your will complicated. Codicils may mean your will is more likely to contain contradictions, so they are often best used for straightforward changes.
  2. If a codicil isn’t appropriate, you can write a new will. This is usually a good option if you would like to make major changes. Your new will should state it revokes all previous wills and codicils, which should be destroyed. 

You can add a codicil or write a new will without professional support, but, again, a solicitor could help you avoid mistakes. 

An estate plan could help you distribute your assets effectively

Writing your will is an essential step to take to ensure your assets are distributed how you wish. Before you put a will in place, understanding your assets and how their value could change over time may help you set out wishes that reflect your goals.

In addition, estate planning might highlight if you want to consider things like Inheritance Tax, how to pass on your pension, or gifting during your lifetime. 

Please contact us to talk about your estate plan and how you may want to pass on assets through your will. 

Please note:

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning, tax planning, or will writing.