Will-writing options explained

The pros and cons of the most popular choices

While no one likes to think about dying, it is a fact of life. And unfortunately this isn’t something solely reserved for the older generation: we’re all too aware of people dying at an early age too. One man in five, for example, will die before the age of 65. So no matter what your age – even if right now you’re not expecting to end your days for another few decades – it’s important to think about the future to ensure you have your wishes documented and you don’t leave behind a financial nightmare for your loved ones.

Worryingly, however, research suggests that half of UK adults don't have a will, so here we explain the options available to put your will in place – from budget-friendly wills to more complex ones, there are will-writing options to suit everyone.

What is a will?

Put very simply, a will is a formal document that tells people what you want to happen to your estate – your money, property and possessions – after you die. If you die without a will, your estate will be passed on in the standard way defined by the law, which may not be in line with your wishes. 

The benefits of a will

There are many reasons why everyone should consider writing a will:

  • A will names your executor (or executors) – the person (or people) who you want to be in charge of following the instructions in your will. (The Money & Pensions Service’s article Choosing your executor gives support on this topic.) 
  • A will makes it much easier for your executor (or family or friends if there is no executor) to sort everything out when you die. Without a will, the process can be more time consuming and stressful – at a time when loved ones are already grieving.
  • A will can help reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that may be payable on the value of your property and any money you leave behind.
  • A will can confirm any financial arrangements you’d like to put in place to care for any dependents you may have, such as your children.
  • A will can make it clear if you’d like to leave something to people outside your immediate family.
  • A will can also document other wishes such as your burial or cremation arrangements.

What will-writing options are there?

There are typically three options to choose from when it comes to writing your will. Whichever of the following approaches you choose to take, you need to make sure your executor knows where it’s kept, as they’ll need to be able to find it easily when you die.

The three main options to choose from are:

  • Using a solicitor
  • Using a will-writing service
  • Doing it yourself

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each option in more detail.

1. Using a solicitor:

Using a solicitor is generally the most expensive option, but as they are experts doing so should give you peace of mind.

The Money & Pensions Service (MAPS) suggests you should especially consider a solicitor if any of the following circumstances apply to you:

  • Your estate may have to pay Inheritance Tax.
  • There are complexities either to your family situation (for example, if it includes former partners or estranged children) or your affairs (for example, they include overseas properties or trusts) and you want to be sure that your estate is divided as you wish.
  • You want to protect someone’s interests after you’ve gone – for example, a disabled family member.
  • You want to talk through the options with an expert or you need some support you can trust.

If you use a solicitor to draw up your will, you can expect to pay between £144 and £240 for a simple single will, £150 to £300 for a joint will for couples and £500 to £600 for a complex will. Remember to make sure the cost you’re quoted includes additional costs such as VAT. 

For more information on instructing a solicitor to write your will, see MAPS’ article, Using a solicitor to write your will.

TOP TIP: Free Wills Month brings together a group of well-respected charities to offer members of the public aged 55 and over the opportunity to have their simple wills written (or updated) free of charge by using participating solicitors in selected locations across the UK. This initiative is usually available twice each year – typically in March and October – and is a great way to help people to put a will in place.

2. Using a will-writing service

You can either meet a will writer face-to-face (usually in your own home) or instruct them online, and they are typically cheaper than using a solicitor. While they can offer some support and advice, they’re generally most suited if you already understand how wills work in principle and your will isn’t going to be complex. There are some potential drawbacks to be aware of:

  • They may not be legally qualified.
  • They may not be able to store your will, as many solicitors can.
  • They aren’t regulated in the way solicitors are, so if anything goes wrong it may be harder to rectify. 

Using a will-writer typically costs from £75 for a basic will – extra services, such as will storage if applicable, may be quoted separately. 

TOP TIP: If you use a will-writer you should make sure they are a member of a professional organisation, such as The Society of Will Writers or The Institute of Professional Will Writers. MAPS’ article, Will writing services – pros and cons, explains more about what you could expect.

3. Doing it yourself

Writing your own will is the cheapest way to make one – but inevitably, it’s also considered the riskiest and it’s worth considering whether this is a risk worth taking for such an important document.

It’s only really a viable option if your affairs are extremely straightforward – such as if you’re married or in a civil partnership and have children, and want to leave everything to the surviving partner in the event of the first death, and to then share the remaining assets equally among your children after the second death.

You can buy a template online or in stationery shops. It should indicate what you need to do to make sure that it’s signed, dated and witnessed properly, and that any previous wills are revoked. You will need to follow these rules strictly to minimise the risk of your will being invalid.

A basic will template will usually cost between £10 and £30, and MAPS’ article DIY wills – what you need to know explains more on the subject.

TOP TIP: Writing a will isn’t the only action you could take to ensure you look after loved ones and make things as easy as possible for them when you die. Our article How to avoid leaving a mess when the time comes also looks at how to keep financial records and plan your funeral.

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.