How to write a will and the 5 things ALL parents should include

Knowing how to write a will and what to include in it is essential for parents wanting to protect their loved ones should the worst happen

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Writing a will can be daunting, it can be difficult to know where to start and, let’s face it, no one really wants to think about what will happen when they die. But if you want to ensure your money, property and possessions (known as your “estate”) go to the right people, there are lots of reasons why you should make a will sooner rather than later - especially if you have or are planning on having children.

Fiona Bushell, tax, trusts and estates solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, told us: “If you die without a will the ‘rules of intestacy’ will govern who is entitled to benefit from your estate – these may not be the people you would want to benefit. For example, if somebody has an unmarried partner or step-children and dies without a will, those individuals would not be able to benefit from the estate. The only way to ensure wishes are followed is by making a will.”

But when writing a will, it's easy to focus on what should be in it, but it's just as important to know what you should never put in your will too. To make the process of writing a will easier, we’ve broken it down into six steps:

How to write a will

Step 1. Write down what you own

Firstly, you’ll need to know the rough total of all your “assets”. Jot down everything you own including your home, savings, investments, expensive jewellery or antiques and life insurance policies, and add an estimated value. Macmillan has a handy checklist to help with this. 

Step 2. Decide who to include in your will

Make a list of which family members and friends you would like to benefit from your will - these are known as your “beneficiaries”. You might also want to leave some money to charity.

Step 3. Think about how you want to split the things you own

Next, decide how you want to divide up what you own. For many families, this can be relatively straightforward – you might want to leave everything to your partner or children, for instance. However, adds Natasha Senior, associate at Birketts, “you should consider whether there are any gifts of cash or personal items you would like to make to specific individuals or charities.

“Depending on the value of your estate, you should consider structuring your will in a tax-efficient manner to reduce the inheritance tax payable.” A solicitor can help with this. 

Step 4. Choose your executors

Your executors are the people responsible for carrying out your wishes and sorting out your estate. They will need to deal with all the paperwork and pay off any debts and taxes, so it’s important to pick someone you trust. 

It’s best to choose more than one executor, and you can appoint up to four. Most people choose relatives, friends or a solicitor, but ask them first to check they are happy to take on the responsibility.  

Step 5. Write your will

There are several ways to write your will. You can do it yourself by searching for a will template online or by buying a paper version in shops such as WHSmith, you can use a will-writing service online, or you can use a solicitor. Using a solicitor will be the more expensive option but it will ensure that your will is completely watertight. 

Step 6. Sign and store the will

Once written, you must sign the will in the presence of two independent witnesses. You should then store it safely, either at home or at your solicitors.

When should I write a will?

You can legally write a will from the age of 18, but you might want to do it after getting married, buying a house or having children.

Dylan Smith of solicitors Atkins Dellow says: “Making a will is particularly important if you’re a parent. It might be the last thing you think about after you’ve had a child and you’re adapting to your new busy life with a young family, but it’s part of your responsibility as a parent to put provisions in place to look after your child if you’re no longer here.”

Writing a will is also important no matter how much or little you own. “Your will is not just about the monetary aspects of your estate. It is also about choosing what you want to happen to all aspects of your estate when you die,” explains solicitor Fiona Bushell. 

Even if you have already have a will, review it regularly, particularly if your circumstances change.

How much does it cost to write a will?

You can expect to pay between £150 and £250 if you’re using a solicitor to write a will and your wishes are fairly straightforward. For more complex wills, you might pay £500 or more.

However, every March and October, Free Wills Month allows those aged 55 or over to have a simple will written or updated free of charge by using participating solicitors in locations across England, Northern Ireland and Wales.  

Alternatively, Will Aid usually runs each November, where participating solicitors agree to waive their fee to write a basic will for any adult. In return, they invite you to make a voluntary charitable donation of £100 for a single basic will or £180 for a pair of basic “mirror” wills – you can donate less than this if needed.

Can I write my own will without a solicitor?

Yes, you can write your own will without a solicitor and as long as it is signed and witnessed, it should be legally binding. However, writing your own will comes with risk.

Rachel Carrington-Matthews, solicitor at Hedges Law, explains: “Homemade wills can be seen as a way to save money, but they can be a false economy. They are often poorly drafted, contain mistakes and can be incorrectly executed. Furthermore, the will needs to include clear language with the correct terminology that also avoids any ambiguity. This means that homemade wills are commonly found to be invalid or ineffective after death.”

Generally, unless you plan to leave everything to your spouse, or to your children if your spouse dies before you, you should use a solicitor to help you write your will. This includes if you are not married or in a civil partnership. 

5 things all parents should make sure is covered in their will 

1. A legal guardian for your children

“If you care for children under the age of 18, then you should include provision for who will become their guardian if all those with Parental Responsibility die. If you don't, the family courts will be left to decide who should raise your children,” says solicitor Rachel Carrington-Matthews.

2. A plan for your child’s finances

Raising children is expensive, so it’s important to think about how your estate might be able to cover some of these costs. Writing a will ensures your assets will eventually pass on to your children.

3. Provision for step-children or other dependants

If you have step-children (or other dependants such as foster children) they won’t automatically inherit anything from your estate. If you want to ensure they will be financially provided for, you must make this clear in your will.  

4. Age of inheritance

You should also state at what age you would like your children to receive full control of their inheritance. In most cases, they will automatically get access at 18 (17 in Scotland), but if you think this is too young, you can set the age at 21 or older. 

5.Trustees for your child’s inheritance

If you die before your children reach the age they can inherit, their assets need to be held in trust. This is simply a way of managing assets for others. You will need to nominate someone to manage this trust, known as a trustee. It’s a good idea to appoint at least two trustees, say a partner and a close friend. 

Mary Casey, senior associate - private client, from law firm Lewis Denley, adds: “You can also leave a letter of wishes to indicate to your trustees and guardians what sort of things you may like them to use any inheritance before the age of inheritance – for example for school trips, to buy a car when they pass their test and similar instructions.” 

Rachel Wait
Personal finance expert

Mum of two, Rachel is a freelance personal finance journalist who has been writing about everything from mortgages to car insurance for over a decade. Having previously worked at Shares Magazine, where she specialised in small-cap stocks, Rachel developed a passion for consumer finance and saving money when she moved to She later spent more than 8 years as an editor at price comparison site MoneySuperMarket, often acting as spokesperson. Rachel went freelance in 2020, just as the pandemic hit, and has since written for numerous websites and national newspapers, including The Mail on Sunday, The Observer, The Sun and Forbes. She is passionate about helping families become more confident with their finances, giving them the tools they need to take control of their money and make savings. In her spare time, Rachel is a keen traveller and baker.