Preparing a will

You will need to consider and address a range of issues, some of which you may not have given much thought to. It is important to collate the necessary information before making your will. Some of the issues are briefly described below, but this is not an exhaustive list of things to think about.

Are you or your spouse/civil partner domiciled in the UK?

It is likely that you are domiciled in the UK if you:

  • were born in the UK, to UK parents; and
  • have lived in the UK all your life.

In the event that you or your spouse/civil partner is not domiciled in the UK, then you should seek advice from a solicitor to determine the terms of your will.

Domicile is not the same thing as residence or nationality. Domicile refers to where your permanent home is. Broadly speaking, it is the jurisdiction with which you are most closely connected, and where you intend to reside indefinitely. (‘Jurisdiction’ means, in essence, a country or place with its own legal system. One particular example is that Scotland is a different jurisdiction to England and Wales.)

In contrast, residence is determined by the number of days you spend in a jurisdiction. For further information, see our pages Domicile and wills with a foreign element and Who pays inheritance tax?

At what age would you like your children to inherit?

In your will, you can specify the age at which your children and/or grandchildren will inherit. If you would like your children and/or grandchildren to inherit at an age greater than 18, there may be inheritance tax implications and you may like to discuss the terms of your will with a solicitor.

What are your assets and liabilities?

It is a good idea to make a list of your assets and liabilities to help you determine what will happen to them after you die. You will need to include assets that you own individually and those that you own jointly with other people. You may own a variety of assets, such as a house, pension policies and various personal belongings (for example, a car, jewellery, etc). And you should note which of the joint assets are owned as tenants in common, and which as joint tenants. See our page Joint property ownership: When does it form part of your estate?

Significant liabilities (e.g. a mortgage) will also need to be accounted for.

Who would you like to benefit from your estate?

You should consider how you would like to distribute your assets. You may want your entire estate to pass to your spouse or civil partner or, if they are no longer living, to your children or grandchildren. In the event that your named beneficiaries do not survive you, you should consider who you would like your estate to pass to (these are known as default beneficiaries). For example, the estate could be passed on to other family members or to charities as decided by your executors. See our page Leaving gifts to charity in a will.

You also need to consider making provision for anyone who is financially dependent on you (e.g. your spouse or civil partner, your children, or elderly relatives). If you don't do so, they may have a claim against your estate. For more information, see our page Can you disinherit family and dependants?

Have you made any substantial gifts in the last seven years?

You have a tax-free allowance (called the nil rate band), currently set at £325,000 (or higher, if your estate includes a primary residence which will pass to children or grandchildren), which is the amount of your estate that is free from inheritance tax. 

However, if you make any gifts less than seven years before your death, these gifts will be taken into account when calculating inheritance tax. If the value of your estate, including those gifts, exceeds the nil rate band, inheritance tax will be payable on the excess. For more information, see our page Seven-year rule – gifts made in the last seven years.

Who should you appoint as guardians for your children?

One of the biggest worries for parents is deciding who will look after their children if both parents were to die before their children reach 18. You can use your will to appoint one or more guardians for your children. A guardian will be responsible for providing day-to-day care, and for making important decisions regarding your children’s upbringing. For further information, see our pages What is a guardian? and Appointing a guardian in a will.

Funeral wishes

You can use your will, or a letter of wishes accompanying your will, to deal with various aspects of your funeral. For example:

  • whether you would like to be cremated or buried; and/or
  • whether you would like a particular piece of music to be played at your funeral.

See our page Funeral wishes.

Do you want to leave any personal possessions or a sum of money to relatives, close friends or charity?

You might be considering leaving a sum of money or a treasured personal possession to a relative, close friend, godchild or to charity. You can make these individual bequests explicit in your will. For more information, see our page Gifts in wills.

Who should you appoint as your executors?

Being an executor is an important, and often fairly onerous, role. You should therefore consider carefully who to appoint, and consult with them first. For further guidance on choosing an executor and their duties, see our page Executors.

Should you create a trust in your will?

A trust is an arrangement where money or assets are held and managed by an appointed person or persons - the trustees – on behalf of the people who will receive the benefit – the beneficiaries. If your children are under 18, or you would prefer your children not to inherit assets in their own name at the age of 18, you should consider setting up a trust in your will. Your executors can be the trustees, and they will become responsible for managing the assets in accordance with your instructions (which may be stated in a letter of wishes left with your will).

See our page Will trust.