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28 January 2021
Cheap and Free Wills
Die without having made a will and you could be leaving behind significant financial problems for the people you care about. Worryingly, new research suggests that more than half of adults don't have a will. Here's how to get a solicitor-written will in return for a small charity donation, and other low-cost options.
Important: If you want to write a will but you're worried about coronavirus, it's normally possible to complete it remotely. Additionally, new legislation has been introduced meaning a will can be 'witnessed' via video – eg, on Zoom.
Making a will is one of those things that many people put off. However, a will can be an important way to protect your family and loved ones. It can save on inheritance tax and head off family disputes about how your possessions should be divided.
A will is a legally binding document which tells everyone what should happen to your money, possessions and property – collectively called your 'estate' – after you die.
Crucially, no will = no say over what happens to your money and property when you die.
As well as naming your beneficiaries (the people who benefit from your will), a will appoints executors – the people who look after the financial process after your death (who 'execute' your will).
Importantly, if you don't leave a will, your estate is shared out in a standard way defined by law (the 'law of intestacy') – which might not be in line with what you would have wanted.
There are many specific reasons for writing a will, including:
As well as providing for children financially after your death, if they're under 18 you should consider who would look after them by nominating a legal guardian(s) in your will.
If you die without a will, and there's no other parent with parental responsibility, it's up to the courts to decide who takes care of your children. This may not be the people you want, so it's essential to record your wishes in a will.
If you aren't married or in a civil partnership, don't expect anything to go to your partner if you don't make a will. At worst, this might mean them not being able to stay in the home you shared.
If your estate is worth more than £325,000, it could be hit with an inheritance tax (IHT) bill when you die. A will can help avoid IHT, for example, by leaving everything above the £325,000 threshold to your spouse. (There is no IHT on money and assets left to a spouse.)
Write or update your will when you marry, divorce or have kids to ensure the right people stand to benefit. Note, in England and Wales (but not Scotland) an existing will is automatically cancelled – 'revoked' – when you get married.
If you know what you want your funeral to be like, you can leave instructions so that your family doesn't have to make the decisions.
If you own your home on a 'joint tenants' basis, when you die your ownership automatically passes to the other owner under 'survivorship' rules. But if you own your property on a 'tenants in common' basis, the intestacy rules will apply unless you have a will. If you own a property overseas, inheritance laws may be different to the UK.
Here we want to start with a WARNING – unlike many areas of financial services, will-writing is NOT a regulated market.
This means there are a number of different ways to get a will, but the protections you have if something goes wrong can vary hugely, depending on who writes it.
Confusingly, while will-writing itself is unregulated, because solicitors ARE regulated professionals, if you use them you ARE covered by a range of potentially valuable protections.
With other (non-lawyer) will-writing services, you do NOT have the same safeguards, and with a DIY will essentially you are on your own. So we want to make it clear that...
Who writes your will matters – the protections can vary hugely and problems may not come to light until after you are dead, which could be many years later
You don't have to use a solicitor when writing your will. But wills are legal documents, and can be invalidated by mistakes, so it's important to have confidence that it's been properly drafted.
Solicitors should know their stuff and write you a watertight will that does exactly what you want it to.
Of course, there's no guarantee they will do a good job. But using a solicitor means you have more protection if something goes wrong – which may not become apparent until decades later and after you are dead.
Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or SRA (in England & Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regulators). If you have any problems, you can make a complaint to the solicitor's firm and, if your complaint isn't resolved, you can go the free Legal Ombudsman service for redress.
Solicitors are required to have indemnity insurance for when things go wrong, including six years of additional ('run-off') cover if their firm closes, while the SRA's Solicitors Indemnity Fund offers £1 million of further cover.
A solicitor-drafted will should give you the most peace of mind, especially if your affairs are complex. Plus as part of their service, the solicitor will usually store your will for you – for no extra charge.
But solicitors are also generally the most expensive option. Even for a simple will, a solicitor might charge about £200, while more complicated wills – for example where you have been divorced and have children with your ex – could cost several hundred pounds. Specialist wills involving trusts or overseas property, or where you want tax advice, are likely to cost £500 upwards.
However, below we detail ways to get your will from a solicitor for free or in return for a donation to charity.
Will-writing services can be a low-cost alternative to using a solicitor. Prices start at under £100.
Such services tend to be most suited to people with straightforward circumstances, for example where you're leaving everything to your immediate family and your estate doesn't include overseas assets or a business.
They may be online-based – using digital tools to draft your will – or arrange to come and visit you at home, which can be more convenient than going to see a solicitor, particularly for the elderly and infirm.
Some have specialist staff checking the wills they produce. However, will-writers may not have any legal qualifications, and protections may be limited compared with using a regulated firm of solicitors. There may also be an extra charge for storing your will.
If you're considering using a will-writing service, it's worth checking whether it's a member of a recognised professional or trade body, such as the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) or the Society of Will Writers (SWW).
These bodies have codes of good practice/conduct which members have agreed to follow, and you can take complaints to them about member firms.
IPW and SWW members also have professional indemnity insurance – at least £2 million in the case of IPW firms – which can provide compensation if something goes wrong.
Importantly, these organisations are voluntary and aren't official regulators, so enforcing rules and getting redress could be more difficult than with an Solicitors Regulation Authority-regulated solicitor (where you also have access to the Legal Ombudsman).
If you've very simple circumstances, writing your own will using a will template available from stationery shops or online can be a cheap option.
But before taking this route, it's important to be aware that if you make any mistakes, you won't have the protection you'd have if a solicitor wrote your will – professional indemnity insurance and recourse to the Legal Ombudsman – or even the codes of practice and insurance cover of will writers who are members of a recognised trade bodies.
If you use a will template, the company that supplies it won't take responsibility for your will being correctly written. So while this route can be cheap, seriously consider whether you want to take the risk that comes with not having a professional solicitor drafting it for you.
Storage-wise, you could store your DIY will at home, though there is then the risk it might be accidentally thrown away or damaged. See below for where else you can store a will.
WARNING! Whether you get your will from a solicitor or a will-writing service, don't assume you also have to appoint them as executors (the people who'll sort out your finances after your death). While some people do choose banks or solicitors, they often charge monstrous fees. They may push to be made executors of your will – or just add themselves without asking you – so make sure you only agree to it if this is what you want. Try instead to choose trusted friends or relatives (especially people who are your beneficiaries, as they are interested parties to your will).
It's important your will is stored safely and you tell your executors where they'll be able to find it after your death.
If a solicitor helps you write your will, they'll usually store it for you – generally for free – while you get a copy.
If you use a will-writing service, they'll also often store your will – but there may be an extra charge. And you may be less protected than with a solicitor – for example, if the will writer went out of business – so certainly make sure you keep a copy yourself.
You could just keep the original copy of your will at home, though there is then the risk it might be accidentally thrown away or damaged.
Alternatively, you could store it with the Probate Service in England and Wales. There's a fee of £20 to do this, but withdrawing it is free. In Northern Ireland, wills can be deposited with the Probate Office for a fee of £33. You can find out more about the various options for storing your will in Scotland on the Citizens Advice Scotland website.
As mentioned above, using a solicitor means you have more protection if something goes wrong – which may not become apparent until decades later and after you are dead. So if you want to be on the safe side, this is likely to be the best option for you.
Many charities offer fee-free will-writing by solicitors. In return, they hope you'll make a donation or leave a bequest in your will (leaving them something when you die) – though you're not obliged to.
These schemes normally run during particular months of the year (notably March, October and November). We'll update this section when these schemes are open.
Do remember it is a charity paying for your will, and it may be shelling out £100s, so please seriously consider leaving a bequest.
The Cancer Research UK Free Will Service allows over-18s to get a free simple will (if your affairs are complex, eg, you have children from a previous relationship, you might need a more comprehensive will). Or they can update an existing one.
The service is available over the phone, online or face-to-face with your nearest participating solicitor. Find out more by following the link above or by phoning 0300 123 7733.
You can either call to arrange a face-to-face appointment with one of the participating solicitors, write your will online with the help of a will-writing partner, or create the will over the phone (again with the assistance of a will-writing partner).
When your will is finished and signed, the solicitor or will-writing partner will invoice Cancer Research UK with a fee.
While the Cancer Research UK Free Will Service is free to you, most people who use the service leave a gift to Cancer Research UK.
The Stroke Association offers a free simple will to over-60s or stroke survivors who are 18+.
The Children's Hospital Charity (based in Sheffield) has partnered with national law firm Irwin Mitchell to offer a discounted will-writing service that also benefits the charity.
Contact Irwin Mitchell on 0330 1230882 or at firstname.lastname@example.org quoting TCHC to get a standard single will for £100 (normally £175) or a standard 'mirror will' for £190 (normally £275). Irwin Mitchell donates 20% of the fee to the charity.
If you have more complex needs, you may have to pay extra – but this will be explained before you commit.
If you have a particular charity in mind that you'd like to leave a gift, check whether it runs a scheme of its own. More than 100 charities are signed up to the National Free Wills Network, offering free simple wills – usually for charity members and over-55s.
The charity will usually check you have donated in the past, or are a member, to be eligible for the free will. Each charity's offering is slightly different, so ensure you read up.
Among the charities signed up and offering free simple wills prepared by a solicitor are: Amnesty International, Alzheimer's Research UK, British Academy, Children with Cancer, Compassion In World Farming, Dignity in Dying, Guide Dogs, Independent Age, Liberty, Oxfam, Shelter and the Soil Association.
A number of trade unions, including the Public and Commercial Services Union, the NASUWT teachers' union, the Fire Brigades Union and Unison offer free wills to their members (and 'mirror wills' for partners) via BBH Legal Services, part of Thompsons Solicitors, which is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. So if you're a union member, they're worth checking.
Some employers may also offer a will-writing service as part of their legal assistance to staff. Check how it works, though. If it's just filling in a template, you may well be better off with a solicitor-based service.
Go via this MSE link to get discounted wills at Co-op Legal Services*. Single wills are £99 (norm £150) and 'mirror wills' for couples are £185 (norm £245), incl free lifetime secure storage.
Co-op Legal Services is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
You'll need to start writing the will online. Once you've done what you can, you'll get a follow-up call from a professional will writer. You don't pay until you get the call back.
You'll then be sent a draft will, which you can change if not right.
Once you're happy and have signed it, Co-op stores your will.
If none of the free or low-cost options detailed above suits, you can also find a local solicitor on the Law Society's database. Or if you need one that provides specialist legal advice for older and vulnerable people, their families and carers, try Solicitors For The Elderly.
Phoning around to get a few quotes could be worthwhile, with potential savings of £100+ between firms.
Will-writing services can also offer savings against standard solicitor fees, with prices starting under £100.
These services may be online-based – using digital tools to draft your will – operate by post, or will involve someone coming to visit you at home. This could be more convenient than going to see a solicitor.
Some services may have specialist staff checking the wills they produce. However, they do not carry the same safeguards as a regulated firm of solicitors.
If you're considering a will-writing service, it's worth checking whether it's a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) or the Society of Will Writers (SWW). Members of the IPW or SWW have indemnity insurance – at least £2 million in the case of IPW members.
For example, Makeawillonline.co.uk charges £39.50 for one or £49.50 for two (covers England and Wales) and is a member of the SWW. Its wills are checked by a solicitor, but it isn't regulated by the SRA.
If you opted to include legal cover with your home insurance policy, check whether it includes a will service. For example, More Than's home insurance legal service add-on gives access to wills and other legal template documents.
You complete your details and the will is checked by a legal team, who send it back to you for signing. It's only suitable for simple wills, but worth seeing if your insurer offers it.
Use this MSE link to get 50% off all wills from Which?* until Thursday 4 February. Single wills cost from £49.50 (norm from £99) and joint (mirror) wills from £78 (norm from £156) including the discount, which is applied automatically when you click the Which? link above.
Which? wills has three levels of will-writing services – this offer will get you 50% off of all of them: self service, review and premium.
Once you've bought your will, you can complete it in your own time (you can call for support on 0117 456 6023).
If you choose a will with the review service, a Which? wills specialist will check and review it. If you choose a will with the premium service, it will be printed and delivered to your door as well, ready for you to register it, with free registration included (registration provided by third party).
Which? says this service may not be suitable for those wanting to include a business in the will.
Farewill* is offering 30% off wills until Sunday 31 January. By entering code msesave30 at the counter, or following the link above, you can get a single will for £63 (norm £90) or a couple's will for £98 (norm £140).
IMPORTANT: Farewill charges a £10 annual subscription fee if you want to be able to update your will – your first year is free. You'll get a reminder before the free period's up, so you can cancel if you wish. If you cancel and then need to update, you'll need to pay the full £90/£140 for a new will.
Farewill is an online will-writing specialist, letting you answer simple questions online to create your will.
It's then checked by a Farewill will specialist, who'll send you a link to download your finished will, which you'll need to print, sign and have witnessed. You'll also need to store it yourself.
Farewill says this service is not suitable for 'mirror wills', overseas assets or complex estates.
For people with simple circumstances, writing your own will using a template available from stationery shops or online can be a cheap option.
WARNING! Only write your own will if your wishes are very simple. For example, if you're married and want to leave everything to your spouse, and – should they die before you – you then want to leave everything to your children. Anything more complicated than that – eg, if you have stepchildren or you aren't married to your partner – you should almost certainly use a solicitor or a will-writing service.
Your Will Be Done (£27 for a single will or £37 for a 'mirror will'), allows you to update your will for free for life. There is an additional £27 charge if you want to have your will checked by a solicitor member of the Society of Will Writers.
There are some basic legal requirements needed to make a will, and DIYing will mean these rest on your shoulders.
For example, you must be over the age of 18 and have the mental capacity to make a will. The will also needs to be dated and witnessed correctly and must state that it replaces all previous versions (and if there are any, these should be destroyed).
It's common for people to make mistakes, such as names of people or charities being misspelled or information about assets being too vague, so be careful and be as specific as possible.
If you die, responsibility for your children automatically goes to anyone else with 'parental responsibility'. While mothers automatically have this, with fathers it can be more complicated – see the table below:
Fathers and paternal responsibility
|Father married to mother||Has parental responsibility|
|Father not married to mother and child born 1 December 2003 or later and father named on birth certificate||Has parental responsibility|
|Father, any other scenario (eg, child born before 1 December 2003, father not named on birth certificate)||Does not automatically have parental responsibility|
|Note: The information above applies to England and Wales. See Gov.uk for info on Scotland, Northern Ireland, same-sex relationships and adoption.|
For help for fathers on how to claim parental responsibility, visit the HM Revenue & Customs website.
People with dependent children should make a will to name a guardian or guardians for their children, and also to allocate funds to ensure they're financially supported while growing up (though another signed and witnessed written document will suffice).
You can appoint anyone you want to be a guardian for your children, as long as they're over the age of 18 and prepared to take on this responsibility – so you don't have to choose a family member. A guardian will have a legal duty of care towards the child and will be responsible for their education, upbringing, personal safety and care until the child reaches the age of 18.
If you die without a will, and there's no other parent with parental responsibility, it's up to the courts to decide who takes care of your children.
It's a commonly held myth that debts die with you. While true to an extent, it's more complex.
If you have debts including credit card, loan or mortgage balances, then they will come out of your estate before your beneficiaries will get the money. If you don't have any assets at all, then the debts will be written off. Here's three simplified examples to help explain it...
Debts £100,000, no assets.
This is simple, you've nothing to leave, so nobody has to take on the debts.
Debts £40,000, you own a £200,000 home.
Here the debt will need paying or sorting from the estate before the person you left the home to can take it.
Debts £120,000, you own a £100,000 home.
Again, for someone to get your home, the debts will need clearing. Your beneficiary could choose to pay this to keep hold of the house, but of course this would mean they'd take on the extra debt. Alternatively, they could choose not to take the home.
Inheritance tax is what your estate has to pay if its value exceeds the Government's threshold, currently £325,000 per person.
However, there's also an additional 'main residence band' which complicates this. See our Inheritance Tax guide for a full explanation.
Anything above this limit is taxed at 40%, which on big estates could cost loved ones £100,000s after your death. However, the good news is it's possible to legally avoid huge swathes of inheritance tax.
You can, but it's not the same sort of will. Everyone should consider having something which says who should look after their finances if they become unable to do it themselves due to dementia, mental illness or being in an accident.
A Living Will (also called an Advance Decision) specifies the level of medical treatment you'll receive if you're incapacitated and can't communicate at the time. You may, for example, specify not to be resuscitated if your heart stops. This is legally binding.
Another measure you can take, for example if you are in the early stages of a degenerative disease, is to set up a lasting Power of Attorney. There are two types – one relating to your health, and one to your financial affairs. You can make one type or both.
If you've no living will or lasting Power of Attorney and you become incapacitated, the responsibility for looking after your estate passes to the Government.
If you've nothing in place, your family will need to apply for a court order – which can take months to process – to get back in control of your estate. You can read more on this in our Power of Attorney guide.
If you die intestate, there are strict rules on what happens to your estate, which could disadvantage someone you would want to protect.
In particular, if you have a partner but are not married to them (or in a civil partnership with them), no will means they have no right to inherit anything.
Intestacy rules vary depending on where you live in the UK:
I live in England or Wales
I'm married or in a civil partnership with no children. Your entire estate will go to your surviving partner, regardless of how much it is worth.
I'm married or in a civil partnership with children. The first £270,000 of your estate will go to your surviving partner. Anything above this amount will be split – half to your surviving partner and half split between your surviving children (held in a trust for them if they're under 18).
I'm unmarried or single with no children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner stands to inherit nothing. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and if they are not alive, it will go to your closest blood relative, eg, your brother or sister. If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.
I'm unmarried or single with children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner does not inherit. Your estate will be shared between your surviving children.
For full details, see the NI Government website. In short...
I'm married or in a civil partnership with no children. The first £450,000 of the estate and personal possessions, including cars (in England and Wales, this counts as part of the estate), will go to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount will be shared among other surviving blood relatives in order of closeness, eg, parents, siblings, half-siblings etc.
I'm married or in a civil partnership with children. The first £250,000 of the estate and household personal possessions, including cars, will go to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount is called the residue and will be shared between the surviving partner and the surviving children. If there is one child, the residue is split in half. If there is more than one child, the surviving partner gets a third of the residue. The children split equally two-thirds of the residue (regardless of whether there are two children or seven).
I'm unmarried or single with no children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner is not entitled to anything. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and other blood relatives (in descending order). If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.
I'm unmarried or single with children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner does not inherit anything. Your estate will be shared between your surviving children.
I live in Scotland
Rules are a little more complicated than for the rest of the UK and are dependent on how much your home is worth, how much you have in cash savings and the value of any furniture you own. Rules are further complicated by whether or not you have any surviving children.
See the Scottish Government website for more info.
When someone dies with no will or known family, their property passes to the Crown as ownerless property ('bona vacantia' in legalese).
The Government's Bona Vacantia Division (BVD) has a list of unclaimed estates, which it updates daily.
You can check whether you might be eligible and how to claim a deceased relative's estate from the BVD. You have up to 30 years from the date of death to make a claim.
If you live with your partner, but are neither married nor in a civil partnership, you may want to consider drawing up a cohabitation agreement in addition to writing a will. While a will determines what happens to your assets and belongings once you die, a cohabitation agreement spells out what happens if your relationship breaks down – so a bit like a will for the living.
The law offers a certain level of legal protection for married or civil-partnered couples, but this protection doesn't apply to cohabiting couples – even if you've been together for 20 years and have three kids. In fact, there are only limited rights for cohabiting partners.
If you're not married or in a civil partnership, even if you split up, there is usually no legal obligation to pool your assets and divide them. If it is in your name, you own it. The rules are complex though, so legal advice is worth having, and things vary subtly across the UK nations.
England & Wales: If the home you live in is in the name of your (ex-)partner, you may be able to claim 'beneficial interest' in court if you've paid towards the mortgage or towards improvements or an extension.
Scotland: You may be able to claim some assets if you've been left worse off as a result of the relationship. For example, if you were persuaded to give up work by your partner, and sell your property and move in. You have a year from when you separate to make a claim.
Northern Ireland: If the home belongs to your partner, you are entitled to receive back any money you can prove you've paid, eg, towards the mortgage, providing there is enough equity in the property.
However, a cohabitation contract can spell out exactly what each partner is entitled to if you split up, something which can avoid complications and further heartache later down the line, especially during a break-up when feelings are likely to already be running high.
Cohabitation agreements are strongest if both partners have had independent legal advice and haven't signed under duress – if you want a solicitor, then go to the Law Society (we plan to be adding some more specific deals to this in future), though they can be expensive. However, there are also templates online for basic agreements which, as long as a reasonable agreement is drawn up, can be helpful.
According to the law, wills must be made "in the presence" of at least two witnesses. While this minimum number remains the same, the new legislation allows witnesses to be present via video – for example, on Zoom or FaceTime.
The legislation has been backdated to 31 January 2020, meaning any wills witnessed via video from that date onwards will be legally acceptable (provided all other obligations – such as the minimum number of witnesses – are complied with). The change will last until 31 January 2022.
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