How to write a will for a cheap price
It's a grim fact of life that one day we will all die. But if that day comes and you haven't written a will, you could land your relatives in financial, as well as emotional grief.
Death is a subject that none of us like to think about; so much so that hundreds of thousands of people die every year without writing a will. But the charity campaign Will Aid aims to change that by offering, for the duration of November, an affordable way for you and a solicitor to put together a legally sound will.
But before looking at how to obtain a will cheaply or even for free I want to consider why campaigns like Will Aid are so important in reminding the British public that no one should die without a proper will.
Why you should write a will
First and foremost it is your legal right and responsibility to decide how your estate is divided up and passed on when you die. Obviously legislation like inheritance tax affects how certain estates are passed on – but by not writing a will you are subjecting your assets to further arbitrary laws known as intestacy laws that will decide how they are divided up.
By writing a will you can ensure that any particularly deserving or needy relatives and friends are looked after when you die – and anyone who you feel you do not want to leave anything to, gets nothing. Custody of children, ownership of pets and specific funeral plans can also be dictated within a will.
It's also worth noting - as panda60 has pointed out below this article - that being married doesn't mean that your whole estate will be passed onto your spouse if you die without a will. In fact, only the first £250,000 goes to the spouse and the remainder is distributed among children and family.
Probate is the process whereby a named executor deals with a deceased person’s estate and distributes it to the named parties within the will. The executor is designated in the will and is usually a relative or friend of the deceased person. But this person is not obliged to accept the task and if no executor can be found then a professional can be recruited and paid for out of the estate. This is a cost that can be easily avoided by choosing a confirmed executor within your will.
You may also want to register your will with certainty.co.uk - a national register of wills. This means that your will can be easily found when you die. The service usually costs £30, however it is free if you use the Will Aid Campaign to create your will.
For more on the probate procedure read What happens to your money after you die?
Dying without a will can also cause added emotional and financial grief to relatives and friends. Relatives who believe they are entitled to more of a deceased person’s estate than the law has allowed them can apply for costly court orders which may introduce unnecessary tension between family and friends.
An unclear or invalid will can cause the same problem and often leads to expensive legal disputes between relatives. It’s always worth updating a will if you go through any change of situation such as a marriage, divorce or child birth or if an ex-partner re-marries. This is done by creating a codicil, which amends a previous will – however if you plan on making several changes it may be worth starting over and writing a new will.
Dying without a Will can cause a financial mess for those you leave behind
The law states that anything you pass on that exceeds £325,000 will be subject to a 40% inheritance tax.
There are ways round this, for example gifts to your spouse are exempt as are any gifts made seven years before death. If you’d rather see your money go to a charity and not the government, donations are also exempt from inheritance tax. But you won’t be able to make a donation without a clear and legally sound will.
For further ways to avoid inheritance tax read How to change someone’s will.
Get a cheap or free will
As mentioned earlier, the Will Aid campaign runs for the whole of November and allows you to get a single will for £85, a codicil for £40 or a pair of mirror wills (for marriages and civil partnerships) for £125. The wills are written by solicitors who work for free so that the payment can be donated to the Will Aid charities.
Sites like MyLawyer and Which? allow you to create a will online and have it checked by a solicitor before being sent back to you. DIY will packs are also available in shops or online – but these include no legal checks, so you’ll have to book an appointment with a solicitor yourself. Getting a solicitor to check your will is essential as – in the event that it is contested when you die – the document will be covered by the professional indemnity insurance of the law firm.
You can even get a legally checked will written for nothing at all at TotallyFreewills.co.uk (this is not yet available in Scotland). The site uses fully qualified solicitors across the UK and earns a referral fee if your relatives decide to employ the same solicitor used to check the will in the probate process. This is how it can remain completely free and independent from any bodies that may be vying for money in your will.
It’s also essential to stay vigilant when looking around for suitable methods through which to write your will. Several scams have been reported involving so-called will writers advertising cheap services in local papers and cold-calling elderly people. It’s easy to be dragged along by a scammer due to the sensitive nature of the subject, but it’s vital to ensure that the organisation you’re dealing with is completely legitimate before you part with any money.
This article has been updated since it was originally published in 2010.