How to write a Will

Financial orders

This page is a guide on how to write a Will in the UK. It looks at the contents of a simple Will with examples of the clauses that might be included. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Written by a practising solicitor and updated 24th May 2022. You can find a number of free Will templates here. You can find a more comprehensive guide to considerations for your Will here. Get a quote to make a Will with me here.

Basic contents of a Will

All Wills should contain a few basic clauses as a minimum. These are:

  • opening words or commencement
  • revocation clause
  • appointment of executors
  • legacies and/or gift of residue
  • attestation clauses
  • date

Many people also like to include a burial clause, and solicitors will usually include a ‘standard provisions’ clause. We will look at each of these in turn.

Opening words or commencement

The purpose of the opening words is to:

  1. Identify the person making the Will (the ‘testator’) – typically using the person’s full name, address and date of birth.
  2. Ensure that it is clear the document is in fact a Will.
  3. Identify what property the Will deals with (you can make more than one Will to deal with specific property – for example, business / non business property, or property located in different countries).

Here is an example:

LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT

I am [NAME OF TESTATOR] of [ADDRESS OF TESTATOR], born on [DATE OF BIRTH OF TESTATOR].

This is my Last Will, disposing of all my assets worldwide.

Revocation clause

This is included to confirm that any Wills or ‘Codicils’ made previously are ‘revoked’, i.e. overwritten, no longer valid. Of course, if you are making several Wills to deal with different property (e.g. business property, international property), you need to be careful not to revoke the others!

If this is to be your only Will, a simple revocation clause might look like this:

I revoke any previous Wills or Codicils that I have made.

Appointment of executors/trustees

This clause is included to say who will deal with your estate when you die. These are referred to as ‘Executors’. Typically, they will be appointed as ‘Executors and Trustees’. These people will collect together all of your assets (your ‘estate’), pay off your debts and hold what is left until they can distribute it according to the Will.

They must be 18+ and they can be friends, relatives or professionals – it is your choice. Remember that professionals will usually want to be paid for their services (and if you choose a professional, you will need to include a ‘charging clause’). If you choose friends, relatives etc, select people that you trust, who are organised and competent with money.

Although in theory you can have as many executors as you like, only four can apply for ‘Probate’ (that is, proof of the right to deal with your estate) so there is no point naming more than four. Remember also that the more you have, the more opportunity there will be for arguments!

Here is an example clause:

I appoint [NAME OF EXECUTOR/TRUSTEE 1] of [ADDRESS OF EXECUTOR/TRUSTEE 1] and [NAME OF EXECUTOR/TRUSTEE 2] of [ADDRESS OF EXECUTOR/TRUSTEE 2] to be the Executors and Trustees of this Will.

Legacies and/or gift of residue

The next section of your Will is where you say what you would like to happen to your assets, once all your debts and funeral expenses have been paid.

Assets that cannot be gifted in the Will

Not every asset is dealt with by your Will. For example, if you purchased your home with a spouse or partner and it is stated at the Land Registry to be held as ‘Joint Tenants’, your spouse or partner will automatically inherit your share, regardless of anything you write in your Will. If this is not what you want to happen, you should speak to a solicitor and change the way the home is held.

Other examples of property/assets that usually pass ‘outside the Will’ include life insurance and pensions. With life insurance policies and pensions, you can usually nominate someone you would like to receive the money. When you die, the life insurance or pension administrators will make the final decision as to where that money goes. Usually they will give it to the person(s) you nominate, but they might not (for example, if you nominated your now ex-spouse 30 years ago and have since remarried).

For everything else, you need to make gifts in your Will to ‘beneficiaries’ – the people who will receive the gifts.

Personal possessions

Sometimes people want to gift all their personal possessions to one specific person. For example, you might want to gift the contents of your house to your spouse or civil partner. You might use a clause like this:

I give all of my personal possessions to [NAME OF BENEFICIARY], save any that I have gifted specifically in this Will.

Specific gifts

You might want to gift specific items – watches, jewellery, money or even houses – to certain beneficiaries. Note that you don’t actually have to make any specific gifts.

Example of a specific gift:

I give my red Ferrari to my daughter Claire Smith of 15 Avery Way, Nottingham.

Example of a general gift:

I give 100 shares in Tesla plc to my son George Smith of 15 Avery Way, Nottingham.

I give £500 to my nephew Andrew Jones of 39 Cranberry Walk, Lincoln.

For minors, you can either make a vested gift (no conditions) or a contingent gift (conditions).

For example, a vested gift (no conditions) might be:

“I give £3,000 to my niece, Olivia”.

If Olivia is under the age of 18, the gift will be held on trust for her until she reaches 18. This might be by your ‘Executors and Trustees’, or you might want to choose separate trustees to look after the gift for her.

A contingent gift has conditions – for example:

“I give £3,000 to my niece, Olivia, provided she reaches the age of 21.”

If Olivia dies before the age of 21, the £3,000 will usually fall back into the ‘residue’ of the Will – that is, everything that is left over which has not been specifically gifted (unless you say otherwise).

Tips:

  • Be specific in how you word your gifts. For example, “I would like Jamie to have my carriage clock” is NOT a gift, it is a wish. Your Executors do not have to follow it!
  • For items such as watches, cars, jewellery, if you no longer own the item at the time of your death (e.g. you gift your red Ferrari in your Will but you later sell it and buy a blue Ferrari), the person will NOT receive the replacement. You can say “any Ferrari that I own” or “a Ferrari from my car collection” (in this case, you might want to specify how the beneficiaries should be able to choose from your Ferraris such as oldest goes first).
  • Make sure the beneficiaries are clearly identifiable and traceable. Don’t assume your Executors will have their addresses and contact information – it is not uncommon for relatives to lose touch over the years. You don’t need to update your Will every time a beneficiary moves, but you can keep an updated contact sheet with your Will.
  • If one of your beneficiaries dies, generally their gift will ‘lapse’ – e.g. it will fail, and fall back into the ‘residue’ of the estate (everything that is left over which has not been specifically gifted) unless you state otherwise. The exception to this is where the gift is to your child or a remoter descendent and they die leaving children of their own. The children will then inherit.

Trusts

One or more trusts can be included in the Will, for better control over the assets. Consider for example what would happen if your spouse remarried after your death. You might assume your share of the assets would go to them, then your children – but too often this does not happen. Your spouse’s new partner will be first in line to inherit. Even if your spouse makes a new Will leaving everything to the children, the new partner would be able to claim against the estate.

A trust allows you to protect your share of the estate for your children, whilst still allowing your spouse use of the asset for life. It ensures that no matter what happens in the future, your half of the assets will eventually end up in the children’s hands.

A trust can also protect your hard-earned wealth if your spouse falls into financial difficulty after your death. The same goes for other beneficiaries – for example, adult children who are not very good with money!

There are several types of trust, each with its own tax rules. A solicitor should advise you on the most appropriate type for your circumstances.

Residue

As noted, the residue is everything left over, after any specific gifts have been made. Your Will must contain a residue clause – otherwise any leftover assets will pass according to the law, and this may not be what you intended.

A typical residue clause looks like this:

“10. My Trustees must hold my estate on trust. They may sell any or all of my assets as they consider appropriate. From my estate they must pay my funeral and testamentary expenses, my debts, and any specific gifts made in this Will. Whatever remains (‘my Residuary Estate’) is to be held on trust for [NAME OF BENEFICIARY] of [BENEFICIARY ADDRESS] and [NAME OF BENEFICIARY] of [BENEFICIARY ADDRESS] and [NAME OF BENEFICIARY] of [BENEFICIARY ADDRESS] in equal shares absolutely.”

The above is a ‘bare trust’ – the beneficiary is entitled straight away, provided that they are 18 years of age or older. Note however that executors/trustees will not typically pay out until six months have passed since the grant of probate. This is to allow time for any claims against the estate to be made.

For every gift, there is always the possibility that the beneficiary will die before you (predecease). In this case, you may want to state what should happen to the gift (for example, should their children receive it?). This is particularly important when it comes to the residue. If you gift the residue to two people and one dies, what should happen? Does the other get their share, or should it go to the deceased’s children?

Here are some example clauses to deal with this:

If any of the beneficiaries in Clause 10 dies before me leaving children of their own, my Trustees must hold the share of my Residuary Estate that they would otherwise have held for the beneficiary on trust for the beneficiary’s own children living at my death in equal shares absolutely.

If the previous trusts of any share of my Residuary Estate in Clause 10 cannot take effect and are not saved by Clause 11, my Trustees must add that share proportionately to any other shares in Clause 10 whose trusts are in effect.

So in this example residuary clause, the deceased’s children inherit first, but if they cannot (perhaps because the deceased did not have children or they too have died), the other beneficiary gets their share.

Survivorship clauses

Wills often contain survivorship clauses, particularly between husband and wife. Spouses often make a Will together, without of course knowing who will die first. They may leave some of their property to each other, but if it turns out that they are the second-to-die, the Will needs to state what happens to the property instead.

For example,

“If my wife should die before me, I leave my share of 25 Willowbank to my children.”

Some Wills do however go further to say that the spouse must survive for 30 days. The idea of this was to avoid paying two lots of probate fees. However, they can create a tax advantage since the introduction of the transferable nil rate band (i.e. if you don’t use up your Inheritance Tax allowance, it can be passed to the surviving spouse).

It is therefore not advisable to include a clause saying the spouse must survive for 30 days unless:

  • Both you and your spouse have assets well in excess of the nil rate band, or
  • Your joint assets fall well under the nil rate band when added together.

Generally it is safer to leave out the ’30 day’ provision altogether, since it is difficult to know what the value of your estates will be at the time of your death.

Burial clause

Many people like to include a clause to say what they would like to happen to their body. For example:

I would like my body to be [BURIED | CREMATED].

This isn’t essential and in fact, it is not binding, although Executors do typically follow it!

Standard provisions

Although this is not essential, it is a good idea to include some standard provisions in the Will. These give your executors/trustees more powers over how they manage your estate. If you don’t include these, be aware that the law doesn’t include everything executors and trustees will typically want to be able to do, and is quite restrictive.

As an example, including the STEP provisions would allow your executors/trustees to pay a smaller gift (money or an item) to a child beneficiary’s parent or guardian for them to look after until the child reaches a certain age, rather than the executors/trustees having to hold onto the item for a long time.

Here is an example clause:

The standard provisions of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (2nd Edition) apply to this Will.

Date and attestation clauses

It is essential to date the Will. Although the Will is still valid without a date, it will be hard to prove that the document was the last Will you made!

The attestation clauses are where you sign the Will in front of witnesses. For example:

Date:…………………………………………

…………………………………………(signature of Testator)

Signed by [NAME OF TESTATOR] in the presence of both of us and then by us in their presence

Signature of first witness: ……………………………
Name of first witness: ……………………………
Address of first witness: ……………………………
Postcode of first witness: ……………………………
Occupation of first witness: ……………………………

Signature of second witness: ……………………………
Name of second witness: ……………………………
Address of second witness: ……………………………
Postcode of second witness: ……………………………
Occupation of second witness: ……………………………

In the above sample attestation clause, the additional details for each witness, although not essential, allow the witness to be identified and traced in case there is any dispute with the Will. It is also a good idea for the witnesses to date their signature. This provides some evidence that they signed at the same time as the testator.

Signing the Will

You sign your Will in front of two witnesses, who then also sign. You should all stay together when signing.

  • The witnesses must be at least 18 years of age and should be people who could give reliable evidence about witnessing your Will if they were asked in future.
  • The witnesses must not be people you have named in your Will as beneficiaries (or spouses/civil partners of people you have named in your Will as beneficiaries).

Letters of wishes

There are some things that do not belong in your Will. For example, perhaps you are gifting your daughter £20,000 in the hope that she will go to University and get a degree. You should put the gift of £20,000 in the Will and the wish in a separate letter. The letter of wishes is not binding, but it can offer beneficiaries some insight into the decisions made in your Will. You can find out more about letters of wishes here.

Professional advice for making a Will

This guide is NOT intended to be a substitute for the advice of a professional.

It explains only the basic clauses that a Will contains. Most people will want additional clauses.

It also offers no commentary on Inheritance Tax. Who you gift your assets to (spouse/civil partner, children, grandchildren etc) makes a difference to how much Inheritance Tax you will pay. Find out more about the nil rate band and Residence Nil Rate Band here.

This guide has only touched very briefly on trusts. These are a very useful way of controlling what happens to your property after you die. As an example, trusts can be used to ensure your share of the family home passes to the children once your spouse or civil partner dies. Without a trust in your Will, your spouse could remarry after your death, leaving their new partner first in line to inherit.

Trusts can also be useful to deal with other eventualities such as the bankruptcy of your spouse after your death, or poor money management amongst your children.

Another good reason to see a solicitor is the increase in contested Wills. If you make your Will with a solicitor, your wishes are more likely to be upheld in the event of a dispute. This is especially important if you have more unusual wishes (e.g. leaving your assets to an animal rescue shelter rather than relatives, or excluding one of your children).

In every case it is advisable to seek the advice of a solicitor to draft your Will. Please do get in touch for an appointment or click here to get an instant quote.

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