Why should I make a will?
A will allows you to decide who will get your money and assets when you pass away. Your assets are all the things you own and can include things like your house or shares. Making a will means that you can:
- Avoid disputes about inheritance,
- Make arrangements for your funeral,
- Make specific gifts, for example, if some of your belongings have sentimental value,
- Plan tax payments,
- Appoint a legal guardian to your children,
- Decide what happens to your pets,
- Set up trusts, and
- Appoint a trusted person or people to deal with your money and assets after you pass away.
These are known as ‘executors’. The executor should be someone that you trust to carry out the provisions of your will and sometimes, having two executors could be appropriate, for example when you’re creating a Trust for a child. If you don’t feel you can appoint anyone you know as the executor, you can consider appointing a professional executor. The How can I find a solicitor? section provides contact details for Law Society NI, where you can look up specialist solicitors to deal with probate (wills). Professional executors will charge for their services and the fee will usually be paid from your estate.
How do I make a will?
You can make a will yourself by buying a ‘will pack’ where you fill in a will yourself, but these are only suitable if your will is going to be very simple. Remember that there are rules as to how the will is supposed to be written and signed. It needs to be signed by you and witnessed by two witnesses, and then those same two witnesses have to sign. This all needs to happen at the same time and place, or the will becomes invalid. Witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will and if it is found that the beneficiaries acted as witnesses to the will, it will be invalid.
Seeing a Solicitor about your will is optional, but it may be better to get one, especially if the will is complex.
Seeing a Solicitor about your will is optional, but it may be better to get one, especially if the will is complex. If you don’t have money to pay the Solicitor, you may be able to benefit from the Green Form Scheme at the Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland:
8 Laganbank Road
Tel: 028 9040 8888
You should see a solicitor about your will if:
- Your will is not simple, which depends on what money and assets you have, and who you want to leave them to,
- Your money and assets are very valuable and worth a lot of money,
- You have any questions about your will or need advice,
- You share a property with someone who isn’t your husband, wife or civil partner,
- You want to leave money or property to dependants who can’t care for themselves, which includes children under 18 years old,
- You have several family members who may make a claim on your will such as a second spouse or children from another marriage,
- Your permanent home is outside the UK,
- You have property overseas, or
- You have a business.
The Law Society (England) has produced a booklet called Your guide to making a will. This guide offers advice and information on how to make a will.
Remember that there may be differences between England and Northern Ireland and it’s best to consult a Solicitor. The guide provides a lot of useful tips on what to watch out for and what to include in a will.
Where should I keep my will?
You need to keep your will safe so it can be found when it is needed – but remember to tell your executors where your will is. You can keep your will somewhere safe at home, or you could store it either at your bank or with your Solicitor, although they may charge a fee to store it.
What happens if I don’t make a will?
If you don’t have a will when you pass away, this is called ‘dying intestate’.
If you die without a will:
- Some things might not happen the way you’d like them to,
- Your money and assets might not be shared out in the way you think is fair,
- Things can be more complicated,
- A relative might need to apply to court to get what is known as Letters of Administration, and
- Your money and assets will go to your relatives in a set order of priority.
If you have questions about intestacy, you can get advice from a solicitor.
What can I do to change a will?
It is good to review your will from time to time to make provisions for all changes in yours and your family’s circumstances. You may, for example, sell an asset that had previously been included in the will, and buy another one, which is now not covered by the will. Also, you may want to provide for new members in your family (young children) or a carer, whom you became close to. It’s best to contact a Solicitor if you are looking to change the will. Generally, you can revoke the previous will and replace it, or amend the old will, adding what is called a ‘codicil’. Remember that if you marry, remarry or enter civil partnership, this will usually make the previous will invalid.
It’s best to contact a Solicitor if you are looking to change the will.