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Writing a Will – how to make and change one

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Do you have a Will? It’s one of the most important documents that you will own, ensuring your assets and possessions will be divided as you wish once you’ve died. So how do you go about writing one and can you change it if needed? Here’s what you need to know about making a Will, including how to make the process simpler.

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Why do I need a Will?

It’s often important to plan ahead in life, and this also includes outlining your wishes for after your death. Writing a Will is essential in making sure your loved ones and the organisations that matter to you are taken care of after you have died. Whatever your age or health, having a Will sorted can give you peace of mind over your possessions, and ensure that they’re going where you truly want them to.

If you already have a Will, it’s worth double checking that it’s all up-to-date too (take this as a reminder!) to make sure any changes in your life or priorities are accounted for.

If you don’t have a Will and pass away, this is known as ‘intestate’. The rules on where your assets go in this circumstance may not reflect your wishes, so many people take comfort in making a legally valid Will before their death, to really help give them peace of mind.

How to write a Will

Now you know you need a Will, it’s time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start making it. 

Gathering the information you need

To get you started, here are the seven things you will need to make a Will, from Cancer Research UK’s trusted Will-writing partners through their Free Will Service. It’s worth thinking about each of the following carefully - particularly the beneficiaries - before you make any decisions:

  • Personal information – You will need to provide your full name, date of birth, current address, relationship status and names and dates of birth of any children you have.
  • Your Estate – all the money, property and possessions you own, including insurances, savings, and even things like jewellery. It’s also important to include any debts you have, so the net value can be calculated.
  • Your Beneficiaries – The people who you want to receive your Estate when you die. You can leave this to people or organisations, for example a charity.
  • Your Executors – who will carry out your Will when you die.
  • Legal guardians for children (if you have children under 18) – you’ll need to name someone who’ll be legally responsible for these children.
  • Your Trustees – The people who you want to manage any Trusts you leave behind. A ‘Trust’ is where someone holds an asset for the benefit of someone else.
  • Other wishes – You can specify in your Will if you have any specific funeral arrangements, and you can also leave a ‘Letter of Wishes’, a document explaining your motivations behind the decisions you have made in your Will.

Writing your Will

Man reading CRUK guide
Now you have all the information you need, and have made the key decisions about your wishes, it’s time to make your Will. It’s essential that you make sure it’s legally valid too - the government has a helpful list here of the requirements for this.

  1. Write it through a charity - You can choose to write your Will through a charity like Cancer Research UK - one of the easiest option available to you. They partner with best-in-class Will-writing providers through their Free Will Service that can guide you through this process. With advice available online and over the phone (as well as with local solicitors) you can get started from the comfort of your own home.
  2. Get a professional to write it - Another option is to use a solicitor or legal professional to write your Will. Alternatively, you can get a professional Will writer, but you must ensure they are a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters.
  3. Write it yourself - You can write your own Will if you wish, but if you choose to do so you need to make sure it’s legally valid.


Deciding who to leave assets to

Making the decision about who gets what in your Will might be one of the most important choices you make when writing or updating one. As well as leaving assets to friends and family, many people also leave a gift in their Will to a charity they care about. This is also known as pledging a ‘legacy gift’.

If you’re deciding what to leave to who - remember you can split your assets between different people and organisations if you’re wanting to leave assets to more than one beneficiary.

Here are some of the beneficiary options you might want to consider:

  • Family - It goes without saying that a lot of people will want to include family, including partners, children and grandchildren in their Will.
  • Friends - Not as obvious a choice as family, but you may wish to leave something in your Will to a friend.
  • Organisations - You can choose to leave a gift to a charity to help fund their essential work even after you’ve gone. Pledging a gift to a charity is an invaluable gift to organisations like Cancer Research UK - a third of their research is funded by gifts in Wills. With a legacy gift like this you’re also gifting future generations as every penny counts to work towards beating cancer.

Order your free guide here for more information on the different types of gifts you can leave, as well as what your money will be funding.

Gift in Wills guide

How to update your Will

Checking your Will is up-to-date is essential - Cancer Research UK recommend reviewing it every five years, or whenever your circumstances change so you know that your wishes will be respected once you have died.

If you want to make any big changes to your Will due to a change in circumstances, for example if you have a new grandchild, someone named as a beneficiary previously has died, or you’ve got married, you may want to cancel your existing Will and start from scratch, but you should seek legal advice on this. For smaller changes, you can add a supplement, but this must be legally valid and signed.

If you’re unsure, it’s always best to get legal advice to ensure your Will and any changes are legally valid.

Here’s what Cancer Research UK has to say

“Leaving a small gift to Cancer Research UK in your Will can make a huge difference, because these gifts enable long-term research projects to develop new treatments. We’re determined to achieve our ambition of seeing 3 in 4 people survive their cancer by 2034. It is thanks to the generosity of people who pledge a gift in their Will that major discoveries have been made in cancer research, that are saving lives today.”

Request your free Gifts in Wills Guide from Cancer Research UK here

Cancer Research UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1089464), Scotland (SC041666), the Isle of Man (1103) and Jersey (247).


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