When we think of writing a will, most people probably think of a simple document that outlines our final wishes and explains who we want to pass our assets to. Though this is, fundamentally, what a will is, there are actually a number of different types of wills. This article looks at the types of wills in the UK, their individual features and which types work best depending on your circumstances.
What is a Will?
Before we get into the details, let’s talk about the legal definition of a will or ‘last will and testament’. As we touched on, a will is a legal document that clearly states your wishes for how your assets are divided and who they are passed on to. As the Government website puts it ‘your will lets you decide what happens to your money, property and possessions after your death.’ For this reason, though you might think you don’t need to write a will, it’s actually a hugely important part of planning ahead however big or small your estate is.
Without a will, your property will be distributed according to legislation for ‘intestacy’ and this may not align with your actual wishes.
3 reasons to write a Will
Make sure your wishes are respected
The most important reason to write a will is to ensure that your wishes are respected after your death.
Avoid conflict & reduce stress
By planning ahead of time and writing a will, you will also reduce the burden on your family and loved ones after you die. Leaving a will can also mitigate against family conflicts arising.
Avoid intestacy rules
Another key reason to write a will is that without one your estate will be apportioned according to the intestacy laws. This could look very different from what you might have envisioned. For example, your spouse or civil partner does not automatically inherit your entire estate under the intestacy rules, which is a little-known fact.
Different Types of Will UK
In this section, we explore the most important types of wills:
A single will is typically a will that’s written by an individual that isn’t married (or is divorced) and doesn’t have a partner. Though it’s also possible to write a single will when you are married if you and your spouse have different wishes for when you die.
A mirror will is for couples that have aligned or identical wishes. As the name suggests, these wills ‘mirror’ that of the person’s partner or spouse. These types of will work well when the couple both want to leave their assets to their spouse and then to the same ultimate beneficiaries respectively.
It is important to note, however, that even if you and your partner choose to create a mirror will at the same time, there is nothing stopping either of you from amending or rewriting your will in the future.
A mutual will is much like a mirror will except that both parties agree not to revoke or change their will later down the line without seeking the permission of their partner first. It is very unusual for people to enter into Mutual Wills due to their inflexibility.
Often people choose to include trusts in their Wills generally for asset protection purposes. This is known as a ‘will trust’. This is a type of legal arrangement in which a trustee manages the assets after your death on behalf of the named beneficiaries or class of beneficiaries.
There are different types of Will Trusts. A Life Interest Will Trust gives beneficiaries a right to the income produced from the trust assets or a right to reside in any trust property. This type of trust is often used to provide for one beneficiary during their lifetime and to dictate where the capital should go on the death of that beneficiary.
A Discretionary Will Trust gives absolute discretion to the trustees as to how any named beneficiaries or class of beneficiaries can benefit from the trust.
Both types of Will Trust protect the capital assets.
Executors and Trustees retain assets on trust for children under the age of 18. Unless there is a specific clause in the Will children become entitled at 18 so it is often useful to specify an older age in a Will.
A living will, also known as an advance decision, is not a will that deals with how your estate will be divided on death. Instead, this is a type of will that is relevant when you want to decide how your medical care is handled should your condition deteriorate to an extent that you are unable to communicate your wants or needs. By creating a living will, you can decide ahead of time what kinds of treatments you want or don’t want and communicate this to your health care team and family. The alternative to this is to put in place a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare to nominate an attorney to express your medical preferences at a time when you are unable to do so.
What should be included in a will?
- The beneficiaries of your Will – meaning who will inherit from your estate
- Who you want to be responsible for looking after your children who are still minors
- Who you want to be your ‘executor’, meaning the person who carries out your wishes and administers your estate
- A plan for what you want to happen if the beneficiaries you name die before you do
Writing a Will
It is possible to write a will yourself, but it’s best to consult a lawyer if you need support planning your estate. Even if your circumstances are straightforward a Private Client Lawyer will be able to guide you through the process and make you think about things you may not have considered.
It’s important to note that in order for your will to be legally valid you will need to have it formally signed and witnessed by 2 witnesses over 18. Your witnesses should not be related to you or any of your beneficiaries and should not be your executors. Additionally, you need to be over 18 years old, writing it of your own free will, making it in writing, and be of sound mind.
To make changes or amendments to an existing will, you can’t just cross something out on the document. You need to either revoke your existing Will and make a new one or do what’s known as a ‘codicil’ which is essentially an official alteration. The same conditions for making a valid Will apply to making a codicil.
Though writing a will might feel unnecessary or premature, unfortunately, we never know what’s going to happen. As such, planning ahead is the best way to ensure that your wishes are respected and that everything is in order.
If you’re feeling confused about how to write a will or what to include, don’t worry. This shouldn’t be an overwhelming or stressful process. Start by speaking with one of our dedicated lawyers to understand what you’ll need.
How much does it cost to write a will in the UK?
This depends if you choose to enlist the help of a solicitor or not. The cost will depend also on how complicated your estate planning is. For obvious reasons, a more complex Will will cost more.
Do I need a lawyer to write a will UK?
No, you don’t need a lawyer to write a valid UK will. You do, however, need to ensure that your Will is made and signed correctly otherwise it will not be valid.
What benefit is there in using a solicitor to write a Will?
Solicitors have the knowledge to ensure that you think about everything you need to include in a Will. They know how to properly draft clauses to ensure your Will reflects your wishes. Often solicitors who draft Wills also administer the estates of people that have passed away and know how things can go wrong from poorly drafted Wills. They can also offer tax advice about the decisions you make and how to protect assets in certain situations, for example, where there are second marriages, fear of a surviving spouse remarrying and leaving assets to a new family, or young or irresponsible beneficiaries.