Alistair Spencer, associate at Lime Solicitors, offers the following to-do list.
1. Work out what assets you own
The value of your assets and how those assets are held, for example in property, shares and so on, will determine whether your estate might be taxed upon your death.
It is worth putting together a schedule of your assets and liabilities with at least approximate values, before attending a meeting with a legal professional to make a will.
The legal professional will consider what tax relief might be available, and the most appropriate and tax-effective way of structuring your will.
2. Decide who will benefit from your will
A legal professional will help guide you through the will-making process
Many wills are disputed because family members are left shocked and angry by the contents once a loved one has passed away.
This can lead to costly disputes and the will writer’s decisions being scrutinised and potentially changed.
This is why, once you’ve written your will, it is important that you communicate its contents with your family and friends to ensure there are no surprises down the line.
If the contents of the will could be seen as potentially contentious, it is often advisable to prepare a letter of wishes to be kept with it, setting out why you have made the decisions you have in your will and why certain people might be excluded.
3. Choose your executor
Ideally you should name more than one person to act as your executor, as this minimises the risk of both executors passing away before you.
You can also choose one or more substitute executors if the executors you have named are unwilling or unable to act.
Executors are the individuals who will carry out the terms of your will and sort out your estate when you die.
They should be individuals you trust implicitly, must be over 18 at the time of your death and must be mentally capable of doing the job.
If naming more than one executor, ensure as far as you can that the executors will be able to work together.
It might be sensible to appoint at least one professional executor, although there will be costs associated with this. An executor can also be a beneficiary of your will.
4. Find two witnesses
Any witness should be independent, so they should not be a beneficiary of the will or a spouse or civil partner of a beneficiary.
Any gift you make to the witness or to their spouse or civil partner will fail.
If you make your will via legal professionals they will usually provide the independent witnesses.
You must have a minimum of two witnesses and they must both see you sign or acknowledge the will in their presence before signing the will themselves.
5. Keep your will updated
In my experience, many people often forget to update their will after a significant life event and risk the document not outlining what they want it to do.
This doesn’t mean that you have to make a new will, as often the changes are quite straightforward.
Once you’re married, any will made prior to your wedding day will be automatically revoked – so if you do separate from your partner, changes need to take place to reflect the change in your circumstances.
It is not unusual to come across situations where an individual has passed away after divorcing but has failed to update their will, resulting in their former partner still benefiting from their estate.