Why you should make a will
You should consider making a will regardless of whether you are young or old, if you have a family to look after, or if you own a property or other valuable assets.
If you don’t have one then your money and possessions might not be distributed in the way you intend. Making a will gives you peace of mind and confidence that:
children under 18 will be looked after, emotionally and financially
family disputes over your estate will be avoided
the people you trust to sort out your affairs after your death are able to do so
that your money and possessions will benefit the people you want, even when there are complicated situations such as poor health, divorce and financial problems.
Net Lawman provides both templates that you can download and edit on your computer, and an online service where a legal expert will write your will for you based on instructions you give in an easy to answer, online questionnaire.
What our wills cover
Our wills include the following provisions, as far as each is needed:
Appointment of executors
We allow you to nominate alternative executors if your first choices are unable or unwilling to take up the position.
Appointment of Guardians for your children under 18 years
For detailed information about choosing guardians, we recommend that you read our article on providing for children, which can be found here.
Gifts of money and possessions (legacies and bequests) to individuals
You can make as many gifts to individuals as you like, whether of money or possessions.
When you give specific gifts, they are deemed to be free of inheritance tax. That means if tax is due on your estate, it is paid using the money and assets that you have not already given away (your “residual estate”). So you need to make sure that you do not accidentally deprive those closest to you by making too large gifts to less important people.
If you make a gift of real property, such as your house or a piece of land, you should make sure that you own it outright, or as a ‘tenant in common’. If you own the property with someone else as a ‘joint tenant’, then the property will automatically pass to the co-owners. You can read more about this here.
Gifts to charities
In law, a charity is simply another person. So just as you can leave a gift of money to a family relative, you can leave a gift to a charity if you would like to do so.
Options for giving gifts to children
If a beneficiary is under 18 when you die, then the law automatically places his or her gift in trust until he or she reaches 18. For small gifts, especially to minors who are not your own children, you may want to avoid the administrative burden that managing a trust would place on your executors, and give the gift to the parents instead, either to keep on behalf of the child, or to use as they choose (for the child).
Options for leaving the residual estate
In most templates, you can choose to leave everything to one person or to a group of people, or you can chose to leave specific shares to specific individuals.
We also include a gift-over provision allowing you to nominate alternative beneficiaries for the gift of the residual estate.
Payment to executors
The law says that an executor may not accept payment for his work unless the will expressly authorises it. But if you want a professional executor, he will usually act only if he is paid for his time. So we always provide a simple sentence authorising payment to executors.
It would be most unusual for a family member acting as an executor to demand payment for his time, but he could reasonably ask for repayment of expenses.
Directions for valuation of your estate
After your death, it is unlikely that those closest to you will be thinking hard about the cost of winding up your estate. However, they may require professional valuations of certain assets to satisfy HMRC. The professionals who provide these valuations generally charge far more than they would dare to charge you, if you were alive. In all but the simplest wills we provide an instruction by you to stop this happening.
Strictly, you do not legally own your own dead body and, therefore, cannot specify what should happen to it. However, if you make your funeral wishes clear in your will, it is most likely that your executors and relatives will carry out them out.
An example letter of intent
A letter of intent is a “side letter” that is not part of your will and not binding. However, executors, whoever they are, tend to follow the instructions you give in it. A letter of intent gives you an opportunity to cover business arrangements and personal matters in depth. It is not registered, unlike your will is, so no-one except your executors need ever know its contents.
You can create a trust on purpose or by operation of law such as when you leave a gift to someone under 18 years old. Trusts are a complicated concept, which we explain here.
We use our own trust provisions adapted from the Standard Provisions of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).
Our provisions give you maximum flexibility and control of how any trust is managed, freeing the trustees from some of the bonds of the Trustee Act 2001 that are unsuitable for a trust managed within your family.
Trusts that create life interests are used to control ownership of the assets you place into the trusts. The beneficiaries may use the assets during their lifetimes (or subject to other conditions) after which the trusts are dissolved and ownership of the assets passes to other people you choose.
The most common use is to provide security for a partner or second wife or husband during her or his lifetime, but for the assets eventually to pass to children, some of whom might be from earlier marriages and who otherwise might be accidentally disinherited if the estate passed to your second wife.
Use of an inheritance tax nil rate band discretionary trust
Inheritance tax is payable only on the value of your estate above a certain amount. This amount is called the threshold or the nil rate band.
There used to be tax advantages to using a discretionary trust and placing assets valued up to the value of the nil rate band into it. Those tax advantages are no longer so advantageous, but using a discretionary trust can protect your estate from claims by creditors or in divorce settlements or if your husband or wife remarries.
Using Net Lawman templates
Easy to understand and edit
Like all our documents, our wills are written in plain English. This not only makes editing easy, but also makes it more certain that your wishes will be understood and followed.
Where absolutely necessary, we use words that have a particular meaning in law, but generally we avoid using jargon. Complicated and unusual words may make the document sound more impressive but they do not add to the legality of the document.
We follow normal, modern legal convention of using the masculine form of a word regardless of the gender of the person. The documents are equally as suitable for women as for men.
Edit in your favourite word processor
All our documents are in Microsoft Word format, which is compatible with many other word processors including Mac Pages, LibreOffice and WordPerfect. We can provide copies in other formats on request.
Our guidance notes help you create a perfect document
Guidance notes are provided with each template. These explain how to edit the document and provide extensive information about why we include each paragraph and the decisions you might need to make.
Making your will legally binding
Once you have finished editing the document, you need to print, date and sign your will to make it legally binding. We explain exactly how to do that in the guidance notes that we provide with the template, and also on this page.
You do not need a solicitor or will writer to review or to approve your will for it to be legally binding. The document becomes legally binding as a result of the process of signing it, not because of any involvement of a solicitor.
When to write or rewrite your will
You can write a will at any time in your life. Most people consider a new will when their financial circumstances change, or when relationships change. The Law Society advise that you review you will every five years, and that you make a new will after a major life change such as having a child, marriage, separation or divorce. It is possible to change a will without making a new one, but a new one is usually the preferable option.
Why we provide some templates for free
Our motivations for providing free will templates are both ethical and commercial.
A will is an important legal document, and we believe that everyone should make one. Because the law sets out how your estate will be divided if you don't have a will, without one, the people you care about are less likely to receive specific gifts (whether of financial or sentimental value) that you want to pass on to them.
The reason why most people don't write a will is the financial cost of doing so. We want to remove that barrier. Our free templates are most suitable for less complicated estates that are valued below the inheritance tax nil rate band (when no tax would be paid). One of the Net Lawman free will templates should be suitable, we estimate, for about 60% of the UK population.
Our commercial motivation is simply that once you have used a Net Lawman will, we hope that you will be more likely to return to us for legal documents for other aspects of your personal or business life. Providing a complete, commonly used, free template that is based on our more complex paid versions is a great way for our visitors to assess the quality of our documents.
Note that our free templates do not contain provisions that seek to minimise inheritance tax. If this is important to you, you should look at the other Net Lawman last will and testament templates, a number of which cover basic IHT planning (largely as illustrated by HM Revenue and Customs). If the value of your estate could exceed the nil rate band (£325,000 for an individual in 2015/16), then we suggest that you seek advice from a qualified tax specialist before signing your will.