Cheap and free wills

Low-cost ways to write your will

Die without having made a will and you could be leaving behind significant financial problems for your loved ones. Yet worryingly, we've found that more than half of adults don't have a will, or have one that's out of date. Fortunately, there are low-cost will-writing options out there. Read our full guide to find out exactly what's available.

With thanks to Emily Deane from STEP (the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) for checking this guide.

Important. The will-writing products listed in this guide are mainly for people with straightforward affairs. If you have more complicated circumstances – such as having a second family or owning property abroad – make sure you see a solicitor face to face (or via video) about how best to draft your will.

Do you need a will?

Making a will is one of those things that many people put off. In fact, 52% of those who voted in our last wills poll either don't have one or do but it's out of date.

That's a concerning figure, given that more than £5 trillion is expected to pass between generations over the next 30 years. But where there's a will in place, it can be an important way to protect your family and loved ones: saving on inheritance tax, and hopefully heading off family disputes about how your possessions should be divided.

That's because 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. 

Reasons for writing a will

There are many reasons for writing a will, including:

  • You have dependent children. As well as financially providing for children after your death, if they're under 18 you should consider who'd look after them by nominating a legal guardian or guardians in your will. If you die without a will, and there's no other person with parental responsibility, the courts will decide who takes care of your children. This may not chime with your wishes, so it's essential to record them in a will.

  • You aren't married to your partner. If you aren't married or in a civil partnership – which is true of more than 50% of people over 16 years old in England and Wales – then 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. Where your partner is financially dependent on you, they might have to go through the legal system to secure financial provision from your estate if you don't have a will in place at the time your death. See cohabiting and wills.

  • You're worried about inheritance tax. 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 you 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).

  • Your personal circumstances change. Write or update your will when you marry, divorce or have kids to ensure the right people stand to benefit. Note that in England and Wales (but not Scotland) an existing will is automatically cancelled – 'revoked' – when you get married.

  • You have specific funeral wishes. 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.

  • You own property with someone else or overseas. 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 property overseas, inheritance laws may be different from the UK's – so bear that in mind when writing a will and seek advice from a solicitor where in doubt.
  • Somebody named in your will as a beneficiary has died. Where you've already got a will in place but a beneficiary to your estate – particularly one of the primary beneficiaries – has died, you should consider updating your will (unless your will already specifies what should happen in this event). Updating your will means you can state who you'd like to inherit instead, otherwise the gift might be redistributed to somebody you don't wish to benefit.

Be careful: Not all wills are regulated

Last will and testament.

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-solicitor) will-writing services, you do NOT have the same safeguards, and with a DIY will, essentially you're 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 your death, which could be many years later.

In this guide we go through the different options available to you: solicitor wills, will-writing services and the DIY route...

  • 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 does go 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 and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regulators). If you have problems you can complain to the solicitors' firm and, if it's not resolved, you can go to 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 further cover once this run-off period expires.

    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.

    These 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 may involve someone visiting your home, which can be more convenient than going to see a solicitor, particularly for the elderly and infirm (though if this happens, make sure they're recording your wishes as you would like, and also that they're not trying to appoint themselves executors of your will). 

    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 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 a Solicitors Regulation Authority-regulated solicitor (where you also have access to the Legal Ombudsman).

    Do note that it is possible for a will-writing service to be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. One example of this is Co-op Legal Services. Some will-writing services also use in-house solicitors to review wills, meaning you might get SRA protection – if you're considering using a will-writing service, it's worth asking if an in-house solicitor will be reviewing your will.

  • 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 body.

    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 draft 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 – it can be £1,000s (or more).

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).

When getting your will written, towards the end of the process make sure to check the beginning of your draft will – which is where you'll find the details of the executors – to ensure the names are correct.

For more information about the process of sorting out a deceased person's estate – such as executing their will – see our Guide to probate.

Option 1: Free & low-cost wills from solicitors

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're dead. So if you want to be on the safe side, this is likely your best option.

Using a solicitor can be expensive, but there are ways you can cut the cost, ranging from charity-based schemes (discussed directly below), individual charity schemes, trade union services, online options and local solicitors.

Free or cheap charity-based schemes

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. 

Do remember though: it is a charity paying for your will, and it may be shelling out £100s, so please seriously consider leaving a bequest.

There are a few charity events throughout the year that let you get solicitor-drafted wills for free, or at least at a cheap rate:

  • Free Wills Month (March and October)

    Important. Please note that the March 2024 edition of Free Wills Month has CLOSED EARLY because all spaces have now been booked. Full details in the box below for those that want to take part in Free Wills Month in future.

    Free Wills Month (March and October)

    Free Wills Month, helping great charities.

    Free Wills Month happens every March and October, allowing those aged 55 and over to get a solicitor-drafted (or updated) will for free – though it's hoped you'll leave something to charity.

    Hundreds of solicitor firms across the UK and numerous charities take part, though different areas participate in different months.

    If you want to take part yourself, you'll need to arrange an appointment during either March or October – though the appointment itself can take place beyond those months.

    To sign up, simply enter your postcode on the Free Wills Month website to find your nearest participating solicitor who has availability. You'll then need to contact the solicitor to arrange an appointment, and mention the Free Wills Month scheme. Many solicitors offer video and phone, as well as face-to-face, appointments.

    You can register with Free Wills Month now if you want to receive a prompt when the scheme next goes live (Tuesday 1 October).

    Quick stats

    • Who's it for? People aged 55 and over. For couples wanting 'mirror wills', only one of you needs to be over 54.
    • When is it? Every March and October.
    • Where is it available? See Free Wills Month website when scheme opens.
    • Who writes the will? A solicitor.
    • Donation asked for? You'll be asked to leave money to a charity in your will ('a bequest'). Typically people leave between £300 and £500 – but the decision is yours.

    Quick questions

    • How does the scheme work?

      Free Wills Month covers simple wills for individuals or 'mirror wills' for couples (only one of you needs to be over 54).

      If your affairs are complex – for example, you have children from a previous relationship or property overseas – your solicitor is likely to ask you to pay something to cover the extra time they spend writing your will.

      The solicitor you use may offer to store your will at no extra charge. You'll also have the option to register your will (to make it easy for your family to find it) for free via Certainty – the National Will Register. The solicitor will give you details on this.

      Free Wills Month is popular, and appointments are limited by the number of wills each solicitor is happy to write under the scheme – so don't delay when booking.

    • How can I help the charities that back the scheme?

      The charities involved pay for the solicitors' time, so be prepared for your solicitor to ask you to consider leaving something to a charity in your will. The hope is that you will do so, but you're under no obligation.

  • Will Aid (November)

    Will Aid

    Will Aid.

    Will Aid, which runs annually in November, is a UK-wide campaign involving nine charities.

    Hundreds of solicitors offer to write basic wills for any adult. They waive their usual fee, and instead invite you to make a donation to Will Aid. The suggested donations are £100 for a single will or £180 for a pair of basic 'mirror wills', which is distributed among the charities. If you can't afford it, you can give less.

    The supporting charities are: ActionAid, Age UK, British Red Cross, Christian Aid, NSPCC, Save the Children, SCIAF, Sightsavers and Trócaire.

    You'll need to book during the month of November but the appointment itself can take place either in November, December or beyond. Solicitors offer a range of appointment types, so if there is no face-to-face availability near you, you should hopefully be able to arrange a remote meeting instead.

    To receive a push notification when bookings go live in November, register with Will Aid now.

    Quick stats

    • Who's it for? Anyone aged 18+.
    • When is it? November.
    • Where is it available? Across the UK (in person and remotely).
    • Who writes the will? A solicitor.
    • Donation asked for? £100 single, £180 joint is suggested, but it is down to you.

    For a discussion on the etiquette of suggested donations and feedback on the scheme, read the full Will Aid discussion on the MSE Forum.

    • How the scheme works

      Three steps to getting your cheap will

      1. Enter your postcode on the Will Aid website or phone 0300 0300 013 to find your nearest participating solicitor who has availability.

      2. Contact the solicitor to arrange an appointment, mentioning the Will Aid scheme.

      3. You can donate via the Will Aid website before you go, and take a printout of the receipt with you.

      The solicitor you use may offer to store your will for no extra charge. Every will drafted through Will Aid is registered via Certainty – the National Will Register to make it easy for your family to find your will.

Individual charity schemes

Most individual charities that operate free will-drafting services do so in the hope of a bequest (a donation in your will). This has the advantage that you needn't pay now – it'll come out of your estate and it's inheritance-tax deductible.

Top free and low-cost wills from solicitors

TABLE_CELL_STYLE

Cancer Research UK

The Stroke Association

The Children's Hospital

Who can get it? Over-18s 60+ (or stroke survivors 18+) Everyone
Who writes it? Solicitor or will-writing provider  Solicitor Solicitor
Cost Free or donation in will Free or donation in will £100 single / £190 joint
How to apply

Cancer Research UK website or call 0300 123 7733

The Stroke Association website or call 0300 3300 740

The Children's Hospital website

or call 0330 123 0882

How does the scheme work? Full info Full info Full info

All these schemes are nationwide and open all year round. 

Other charities

If you'd like to leave a gift to a particular charity, check whether it runs a scheme of its own. More than 150 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 different, so ensure you read up.

Among the charities signed up and offering free simple wills prepared by a solicitor are: Alzheimer's Research UKAmnesty InternationalBritish AcademyChildren with CancerDignity in DyingGuide DogsIndependent AgeLiberty, Macmillan Cancer SupportOxfamShelter, the Soil Association and Unicef.

For a full list of the 150+ charities taking part, see the National Free Wills Network.

Trade union member? You could get a free will

A number of trade unions, including the Public and Commercial Services' Union, the NASUWT teachers' union, the Fire Brigades' Union, 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.

Free online solicitor-checked wills

There's one completely free, online option where every will is checked by a solicitor. It's called Free Wills, and it's even free if you need to make changes to your will at a later date.

If you opt to use it, you'll be protected in two ways:

  • Your will is checked by a regulated solicitor (meaning you could complain about the solicitor to the Solicitors Regulation Authority).

  • Free Wills is a member of the Society of Will Writers (where you could take a complaint about the service provided by Free Wills).

If leaving something behind to charity is important to you then this can be arranged via Free Wills. To date, it's helped raise more than £100 million for charity through gifts left in wills.

It's important to note that if you do use Free Wills, it'll recommend you appoint Kings Court Trust as the estate administrator of your will (meaning it'd be responsible for dealing with your estate when you die – a process known as 'probate'). But there's no obligation to do this. Kings Court Trust charges £1,000s in fees for this, so unless you've got a complex will, we'd suggest picking a family member or friend as executor instead.

See how to keep probate costs down in our Probate guide.

Local solicitors – find a law firm near you

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 that of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. Or if you need one that provides specialist legal advice for older and vulnerable people, their families and carers, try The Association of Lifetime Lawyers.

Phoning round for quotes could be worthwhile, with potential savings of £100+ between firms.

Option 2: Low-cost will-writing services

Make a will.

Will-writing services can 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.

Low-cost will-writing services normally fall into one of these three categories:

  • Services that are regulated by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA), meaning you'll get the same level of protection you would if you'd seen a solicitor.
  • Services where it's pot luck whether your will is reviewed by a solicitor or not.
  • Services offered as part of an insurance package.

If you're considering a will-writing service that's not SRA-regulated, and that isn't featured in this guide, check whether it's a member of a trade body such as the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, the Institute of Professional Willwriters or the Society of Will Writers

Will-writing services that offer the same protection as a solicitor would

Some low-cost will-writing services are actually regulated by the SRA, such as Co-op Legal Services.

Although Make A Will Online is not regulated by the SRA, all of its wills are checked by an SRA-regulated solicitor – meaning it has a very similar level of protection to that of an SRA-regulated service (further information in the table below).

Top low-cost will-writing services, regulated by the SRA

TABLE_CELL_STYLE Co-op Legal Services* Make A Will Online
Who can get it? Everyone Everyone
Available where? England & Wales England & Wales
Who writes/checks it? Fill in online template which is checked by will writer or solicitor Fill in online template which is checked by will writer or solicitor
Cost £99 single / £185 joint via our links £60 single / £90 joint
How to apply Co-op Legal Services* website

Make A Will Online website

How does the scheme work? Full info Full info

Will-writing services that MIGHT offer the same protection as a solicitor would

As mentioned above, many low-cost will-writing services aren't regulated by the SRA. 

However, some of these services have panels of experts to review wills, which can include solicitors. If something were to go wrong with your will, while you couldn't complain about the firm to the SRA, if your will happened to be reviewed by a solicitor, then that solicitor would be regulated by the SRA – meaning greater protection for you.

As many will-writing review panels are comprised not just of solicitors, but also will-writing professionals and paralegals, there is a lottery element as to what level of protection you might get. If you can, ask the firm whether your will could be specifically reviewed by a solicitor (there's no guarantee it'll say yes, as it'll likely be based on availability).

Where your will won't be reviewed by a solicitor, check if the will-writing firm is part of a will-writing body instead (such as the Society of Will Writers or Institute of Professional Willwriters). 

Top low-cost will-writing services, which may be SRA-regulated (1)

TABLE_CELL_STYLE

Which?*

Farewill*
Who can get it? No restriction Over-18s (simple wills only)
Available where? UK-wide England & Wales
Who writes/checks it? Fill in online template which is checked by will writer or solicitor Fill in online template which is checked by will writer or solicitor
Cost

Review: £101.15 single / £160.65 joint 

 

(Via our links)

£70 single / £112 joint (2)

 

(Via our links and you must quote msesave30 at the checkout)

How to apply Which?* website

Farewill* website

How does the scheme work? Full info Full info

(1) Neither Which? nor Farewill are members of will-writing bodies. (2) Farewill doesn't allow you to update your will unless you pay a £10/year fee.

Wills included in home insurance legal cover

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. See our Cheap home insurance guide for more info. 

Option 3: DIY wills

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 – for example, if you have stepchildren or you aren't married to your partner – you should almost certainly use a solicitor or a will-writing service.

Where you do have complicated circumstances but opt to write your own DIY will, there is a much greater chance of the will failing to clearly convey your wishes – something which could lead to the will being contested.

One DIY option is Lawpack*, which has a will template at £22.99. Another is the legal advice site Compact Law, which has some free-to-download templates.

Yet be mindful that with both Lawpack and Compact Law, you are effectively on your own – neither accepts any liability in the event something goes wrong with the will, nor are they members of any will-writing body.

What do I need to know to do a DIY will?

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 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). The witnesses must be 18+ and can't be named as a beneficiaries in the will nor can a witness be your spouse / civil partner.

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.

Where should you store 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, it'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 and closed its office – so certainly make sure you keep a copy yourself. If a will-writing service that stores your will does close down, it should either let you collect your will or tell you where it's being sent, but this isn't guaranteed to happen.

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. If you do this, remember to tell your executors where they'll be able to find the will after your death.

Alternatively, you could store it with the Probate Service in England and Wales. There's a £20 fee to do this, but withdrawing it is free. In Northern Ireland, you can deposit a will with the Probate Office for a £39 fee. You can find out more about the various options for storing your will in Scotland on the Citizens Advice Scotland website.

Quick question

  • What happens to my will if the solicitors' firm looking after it closes down?

    Strict rules ensure that wills stored by regulated solicitors are kept safe – even in the event the firm looking after your will closes down (so it wouldn't be lost).

    If your solicitor did go out of business, your will would either (with your permission) be transferred to another regulated solicitor firm, or – if you couldn't be contacted – remain securely stored (either with the original solicitor, or with the Solicitors Regulation Authority).

    Be aware that with will-writing services, there is no equivalent, sector-wide safeguard in place, so if you store your will with a will-writing firm you should ask what would happen to it in the event the business were to close.

FAQs: Wills and inheritance

  • What are 'intestacy' rules?

    Many people die each year without having left a will. This is known as dying 'intestate'.

    Where this occurs, it means what happens to your estate will be determined by strict intestacy rules – something that could make things complex for loved ones left behind, and even disadvantage people you want to protect.

    Crucially, if you have a partner but are not married or in a civil partnership, dying without a will means they will not have the right to inherit anything (regardless of how long you've been together or whether you've got kids). 

    Intestacy rules vary depending on factors such as your marital status, whether you have children and where you live in the UK. For more info, select the scenario that matches your situation:

    1) I'm married or in a civil partnership and don't have a will
    2) I'm cohabiting and don't have a will
    3) I'm single and don't have a will

  • I'm MARRIED or in a CIVIL PARTNERSHIP but don't have a will – what happens when I die?

    While being married or in a civil partnership guarantees your partner will inherit to some extent, if you die 'intestate' – in other words, without leaving a will – there might be a cap on how much they'll get.

    Use this Gov.uk tool to see how intestacy rules work in more detail, but here's a summary depending on where you live in the UK:

    • England or Wales:
      - If you don't have children. Your entire estate will go to your surviving partner, regardless of how much it's worth.

      - If you have children.
       The first £322,000 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 (if you've got children who are no longer alive, any children they had – so your grandchildren – will inherit in their place).

    • Northern Ireland:
      - If you don't have children.
       The first £450,000 of the estate, as well as all personal possessions, will go to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount will be shared between the surviving partner and closest surviving blood relatives (parents inherit ahead of siblings).

      - If you have children.
      The first £250,000 of the estate, as well as all personal possessions, 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 and the children two-thirds split equally between them. (If you've got children who are no longer alive, any children they had – so your grandchildren – will inherit in their place).

    • 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 Gov.uk for more info.

    What happens to my property?

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where you own a property with your spouse, what happens to it when you die and don't have a will depends on whether you own it on a 'joint tenant' or 'tenants in common' basis.

    If you and your spouse own as joint tenants, the property is not subject to intestacy rules and full ownership will pass to your spouse.

    If you are tenants in common, your share of the property won't automatically pass to your spouse, but they might inherit some or all of it depending on the intestacy rules above.

    Similar arrangements exist in Scotland – if there's a survivorship clause listed in the property's title deeds, it will pass to the named survivor automatically, otherwise intestacy rules apply.

  • I'm SINGLE and don't have a will – what happens when I die?

    If you're single and die without leaving a will, what happens to your assets will be determined by the rules of intestacy.

    Use this Gov.uk tool to see how intestacy rules work in more detail, but here's a summary depending on where you live in the UK:

    • England or Wales:
      - If you don't have children. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and, if they are not alive, it will be shared between your closest blood relatives, for example, any brothers and sisters (if a brother or sister is no longer alive, their children inherit in their place). If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.

      - If you have children.
       Your estate will be shared between them (if you've got children who are no longer alive, any children they had – so your grandchildren – will inherit in their place).

    • Northern Ireland:
      - If you don't have children. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and, if they are not alive, it will be shared between any surviving brothers or sisters. If there are none, your estate will be shared between any surviving grandparents (then surviving aunts and uncles).

      - If you have children.
       Your estate will be shared between them (if you've got children who are no longer alive, any children they had – so your grandchildren – will inherit in their place).

    • 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 Gov.uk for more info.

    What happens to my property?

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where you own a property and die without a will, what happens to it will depend on whether it's solely in your name or whether you own it together with another person or other people.

    - Property solely in your name? The property will be passed on according to intestacy rules above. 

    - Own with somebody else as 'joint tenants'? Ownership will pass to the other joint tenant.

    Own with somebody else as 'tenants in common'? Your share of the property will be passed on according to intestacy rules.

    Similar arrangements exist in Scotland – if there's a survivorship clause listed in the property's title deeds, it will pass to the named survivor automatically, otherwise intestacy rules apply.

  • I'm COHABITING with my partner but don't have a will – what happens when I die?

    Where you're living with your partner but aren't married or in a civil partnership (which are both essentially contracts), then writing a will takes on an extra importance.

    Fail to leave a will – meaning you die 'intestate' and your estate is subject to intestacy rules – and your partner is unlikely to inherit ANYTHING from you.

    And don't rely on the idea of a 'common law' partner, as this is mostly meaningless in law. This applies even if you've been together for decades and have children.

    Use this Gov.uk tool to see how intestacy rules work in more detail, but here's a summary depending on where you live in the UK:

    • England or Wales:
      - If you don't have children. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and, if they are not alive, it will be shared between your closest blood relatives, for example, any brothers and sisters (if a brother or sister is no longer alive, their children inherit in their place). If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Crown.

      - If you have children.
       Your estate will be shared between them (if you've got children who are no longer alive, any children they had – so your grandchildren – will inherit in their place).

    • Northern Ireland:
      - If you don't have children. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and, if they are not alive, it will be shared between any surviving brothers or sisters. If there are none, your estate will be shared between any surviving grandparents (then surviving aunts and uncles).

      - If you have children.
       Your estate will be shared between them (if you've got children who are no longer alive, any children they had – so your grandchildren – will inherit in their place).

    • 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 Gov.uk for more info.

    What happens to my property?

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where you own a property with your cohabiting partner, what happens to it when you die depends on whether you own it on a 'joint tenants' or 'tenants in common' basis.

    If you and your cohabiting partner own as joint tenants, the property is not subject to intestacy rules and full ownership will automatically pass to your partner.

    If you are tenants in common, however, your share of the property will be subject to intestacy rules, meaning your partner likely won't be entitled to it.

    Similar arrangements exist in Scotland – if there's a survivorship clause listed in the property's title deeds, it will pass to the named survivor automatically, otherwise intestacy rules apply.

  • Cohabiting? For extra protection, consider getting a 'cohabitation agreement' in addition to a will

    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's 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 – for example, 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, go to the Law Society, 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.

    A cohabitation agreement might also provide some protection from financial abuse, if you find yourself in this position. For more information on what financial abuse is and how it works, see Martin's blog.

  • Who looks after my children if I die?

    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 parental responsibility 

    SITUATION RESPONSIBILITY
    Father married to mother when child born  Has parental responsibility (1)
    Father not married to mother when child born but named on birth certificate Has parental responsibility (2)
    Father any other scenario. For example, not married to mother when child born nor named on birth certificate Does not automatically have parental responsibility

    (1) Still applies even if mother and father later divorce

    (2) Applies to children born since 1 December 2003

    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 Gov.uk.

    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 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 person with parental responsibility, it's up to the courts to decide who takes care of your children.

    According to Will Aid, more than half of UK adults (54%) don't have guardianship arrangements in place for their children.

  • Do debts die with you?

    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, they will come out of your estate before your beneficiaries will get the money. If you don't have any assets at all, the debts will be written off. Here are three simplified examples to help explain it...

    • £100,000 debts, no assets.

      This is simple: you've nothing to leave, so nobody has to take on the debts.

    • £40,000 debts, 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.

    • £120,000 debts, 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.

    For full details on this, see the Gov.uk website.

  • Can I leave a will for if I become incapacitated?

    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.

  • Can I include digital assets and social media accounts in my will?

    Any digital assets you've got should be treated as much a part of your estate as physical ones. Digital assets could include:

    • Photos and videos
    • Cryptocurrencies
    • Loyalty points
    • Music files
    • Websites
    • Important online documents

    If you've got any of these, consider writing down in your will what you'd like to happen to them when you die – otherwise they'll be distributed in line with intestacy rules.

    Where you've got social media accounts, you can use a will to state who you'd like to take care of them or what should be done with them after your death.

    For more info, see How to prepare your digital life for when you die.

  • What can I do if I think a relative's estate has gone to the Crown?

    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.

  • Is it possible to change somebody's will after they have died?

    While you can't rewrite somebody's will after their death, in some circumstances you can change how much you'll benefit from that person's will. This can only be done if all beneficiaries of the will agree to the changes.

    Acceptable reasons for changing the benefits of a will include to reduce the amount of inheritance tax or capital gains tax a beneficiary would otherwise have to pay. It's also possible to include a new beneficiary who was originally left out of the will.

    The procedure to do this involves writing a 'deed of variation'. It must be done within two years of the deceased person's death. 

    For details about how to get a deed of variation, see the Gov.uk website

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