8 things you need to know about wills


We all know that we should write a will. This crucial document is the only way to ensure your estate is distributed in line with your wishes when you pass away. But it’s something many people put off and it could mean intended beneficiaries don’t benefit from your estate.

A survey from Royal London found that 57% of UK adults don’t have a will in place. Without a will, your estate will be distributed according to intestacy rules. These outline a strict line of inheritance. In some cases, this may align with your wishes. But as families become more complex, it’s increasingly likely that they won’t. As a result, taking the time to make a will is the only way to set out what you want to happen to your assets.

If you haven’t already written a will, here are eight things you should know first.

1. You can clearly set out how you want your estate to be distributed

When you look at your assets, you may have a very clear idea about how you want them to be distributed. Within a will, you can set out very clearly what you want to happen. For example, you may want to leave a defined lump sum to children, this is known as a pecuniary bequest. Alternatively, you may want to leave a portion of your entire estate to each child, known as a residuary bequest. You can also specify certain material items to ensure they get to the right person.

For more complex families, a revisionary request can be useful too. This allows you to set out what happens after your beneficiary dies. You could, for instance, leave your home to a spouse but then state once they pass away it will go to children from a previous relationship.

2. Marriage cancels any previous will made

Even if you already have a will in place, getting married will mean it’s invalid. Instead, the rules of intestacy will apply. This would mean your spouse or civil partner will be the first to inherit your estate. If this doesn’t align with your wishes, it’s important to write a new will.

Should you separate from your spouse or civil partner, they will still be entitled to your assets when you die, unless you divorce or dissolve the civil partnership.

3. It can be used to leave a charitable legacy

It’s not just your loved ones that can benefit from your generosity when you pass away. You can also name charities and other organisations to receive all or a portion of your estate when you pass away. It’s an opportunity to leave behind a charitable legacy and support the causes close to your heart. It’s also a step that can reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax due on your estate in some cases. If Inheritance Tax is a concern, please contact us.

4. A will can be used to name a guardian for children

The research revealed that 39% of people believed the responsibility of their children would automatically go to immediate family. However, this is incorrect. Instead, the courts would decide who becomes a guardian. This may not deliver the outcome that you wanted. Your will is the place to set out who you’d want to look after children or other dependents should you pass away by naming a guardian.

5. Cohabiting partners are not automatically entitled to assets

It’s a common misconception that cohabiting partners would be entitled to their deceased partner’s estate. In fact, 74% of people didn’t know this isn’t the case. If you’re not married but want to leave assets to your partner, you must write a will. Not doing so could leave them in a financially vulnerable position, particularly if assets such as your home are in your name.

6. You can disinherit potential beneficiaries

There may be cases where you don’t want someone to inherit. As well as naming people you want to benefit from your estate, you can also name those you don’t want to include. This may include people that would normally inherit under intestacy rules and can reduce the chance of your will being contested.

However, you cannot legally remove a spouse or children as beneficiaries, even in your will, if you live in Scotland. Just 21% of those living in the country were aware of this.

7. A will can be used to set out other wishes

Your will can also be used to state your other wishes, such as funeral arrangements. This can help your loved ones understand what you wanted at a difficult time. Having a written document to refer to can be useful for your family and friends making the decisions. However, these wishes are not legally binding.

8. Your will should be regularly reviewed

You shouldn’t just write a will and forget about it. It’s important to review it regularly; your circumstances and wishes may change. It’s a good idea to take a look over your will after big life events, such as having children or divorcing, and every five years. If amendments are required, you can either add these to your existing will through a codicil or write a new will that states previous wills are invalid.

A will should form part of your wider financial plan. It’s the only way to ensure your estate is divided in the way that you wish. It can also help reduce Inheritance Tax if this is a concern for you. To discuss your estate plan and how a will fits into this, please get in touch.

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