My parents didn’t have a Will. This is what I did.

I am one of the co-founders of LegalWills. We offer online Will writing services for the UK (through, Canada (through and the US (through Over the last 20 years, over half a million Wills have been created using the tools developed by Henry Raud and myself, Tim Hewson. On a trip back to the UK to visit my parents, they admitted that they didn’t have an up-to-date Will themselves “but it will be alright, it’s obvious what will happen anyway. It will all go to each other, and then it will all go to the two of you, our children”.

It’s a common misunderstanding. The assets may perhaps eventually end up with the right people, but having a Will certainly makes it simpler. Besides, I own a Will writing business, so it would reflect poorly on my powers of persuasion if I couldn’t convince my own parents that their children would be much better positioned if there was a Will in place, even if the distribution of the assets was obvious.

I explained that using our own tool, the process would take about 20 minutes, and that I could give them a break on the £49.95 price-tag.

Even though my own parents didn’t have an email account, or internet access, I would be able to help them step through the service. They would be able to have their legal Last Will and Testament in their hands in half an hour.

Three years later, and both of my parents have passed away. The Wills gave us no issues whatsoever with the probate office. I am in full receipt of my inheritance, and there were absolutely no process disadvantages to having used to create my parents’ Wills.

This article gives you an overview of the Will writing process and probate process.

Meeting with my parents to write their Will

Gathering the Required Information

There are some key pieces of information that need to go into a Will. You need to name an Executor (or more than one Executor), and you need to know the plan for distributing the assets. There are more details like guardians for minor children, trusts for minors and pet trusts, but for the purposes of my parent’s Wills, the key information was knowing their choice of Executor and asset distribution.

If you are unsure of your parent’s wishes, at we provide an “Information Collection Worksheet” that can be printed. You can then sit with your parents and gather the information in an interview style to be entered into the service at a later date.

Gathering information to write a Will with your parents
Information Collection Worksheet

Of course, the service at is fully responsive in design. This means that you can use it on your phone, tablet or iPad. The service will render perfectly on the screen which allows you to enter the information directly into the service if you have a data connection.

Can you name a non-UK resident as the Executor of a Will?

The service at guides you through the process of preparing a Will, with online help and documentation available every step of the way. One question that comes up from time-to-time is whether an adult child, living overseas, can be named as an Executor. I can say from experience that yes, there are absolutely no issues with this whatsoever. I was named as Executor to my parents’ UK Wills, as a Canadian resident and citizen. It did not cause any problems at all. I was able to submit all of the appropriate forms to the probate office by post.

Entering the information into guides you through ten sections to prepare a Will. You may know much of the information, like the name, family status, children, grandchildren. If you have gathered information using the worksheet, you may know the Executor appointments.

Naming an Executor
Naming an Executor to the Will at

For the distribution of assets, you may know that everything will pass to the spouse, with the children named as alternate beneficiaries. But perhaps there is a pet trust, or a charitable bequest.

It is very common for somebody to leave for example, £5,000 to a charity, and then the remainder to go to their family.

At we also allow you to make provision in your Will for lifetime interest trusts. So for example, if a spouse is not the biological parent of the children, they may receive use of the estate for the rest of their life, but at the end of their life, it passes to the children.

You do not need a complete list of assets to work through the Will service. However, it is extremely useful for the Executor to have a list of assets when it comes to gathering the estate. To assist with this, offers the MyLifeLocker service.

We strongly recommend that you sit down with your parents and work through the LifeLocker service to understand the full extent of their assets. Otherwise, you will be required to do this after they have passed away without any input from them – a much more difficult task.

Executor Handbook
The LifeLocker service at

Signing and Dating the Will

As soon as you have stepped through the Will service and answered all of the questions, the document is compiled and can then be downloaded as a PDF file and printed.

To make this document a legal Will it must then be signed in the presence of any two adult witnesses. The witnesses can be friends, neighbours or even family members if they are not beneficiaries in the Will. Once the document is signed and witnessed, it is a fully legal document.

Storing the Will

The printed, signed Will must then be stored in a place that is known and accessible to the Executor. The probate office will not readily accept a photocopy or scanned Will. For this reason it is vital that the Executor can access the original document, signed in ink. (I use the term “Probate Office” as a descriptor – it is actually HM Courts & Tribunals Service that receive and process probate applications).

This also means that storing the document on your computer, or a picture of it on your phone, is not going to be accepted by the probate office. Often, the best choice is to simply give the document to your Executor in a sealed envelope for safe keeping.

Freezing of Assets

When somebody dies, their assets are typically frozen by the financial institutions holding the money. You cannot present a Will to a bank and expect that bank to give you access to the money. The bank doesn’t know if a subsequent Will was written, or whether this Will is being contested. They do not want to risk handing the assets in the account to the wrong person. However, each bank has its own level of risk tolerance. In general if an estate is worth more than about £5,000, probate will be required. But each bank has their own threshold.

Aviva – £50,000

AXA – £10,000

Barclays – £50,000

Britannia – £30,000

Cheltenham & Gloucester – £25,000

Co-op Bank – £30,000

Halifax – £50,000

HSBC – Decided on a case-by-case basis.

Lloyds TSB – £50,000

Nationwide – £50,000

Natwest – £25,000

NS&I – £5,000 to £15,000 depending on the will and the number of Executors

Post Office – £10,000

Santander – £50,000

All of these numbers are approximate guides, and it really depends on your relationship with the bank, and the banks perceived risk of giving the money to the wrong Executor.

It is worth noting that if any one of the financial institutions holding an asset in the estate request a “Grant of Probate” then the Will needs to be probated.

Calculating Inheritance Tax to be paid

In the UK, the Inheritance Tax threshold at the time of writing is £325,000, or £650,000 for a couple. Above this the estate is taxed at a rate of 40 percent. You will have to find the appropriate form based on the size of your parent’s estate and submit the form to HM Revenue and Customs.

Submitting the forms to probate

Probate can be submitted directly online, or by post using form PA1P. There is a separate application process when there is no Will. The application requires all Executors to sign the form and submit the form together with the Inheritance Tax Summary Form, the original Will, and the original death certificate (photocopies are not acceptable). This is also an opportunity for any Executor to renounce their position (in my experience, it is more paperwork to renounce the position than it is to take on the role).

It took about 11-12 weeks for the probate application to be approved and a Grant of Probate issued to the Executors. For those three months, all assets are frozen.

Gathering and Distributing the Assets

Once the Executor has the Grant of Probate, this can be presented to the bank. It’s not quite so simple as presenting it to a cashier. Any frozen account is in the hands of the “bereavement department” so there is a little more bureaucracy to work through, but this should only take another day or two.

Depending on how many assets are being gathered, and how many beneficiaries are involved, you may be required to set up a new bank account for the estate. This allows all assets to be pooled together into a single account. Certainly if beneficiaries are receiving a percentage of the estate e.g. 12 percent of the estate to each of my grandchildren, then the assets should be gathered into a single estate in order to assess the full estate value and calculate the size of each inheritance.

Do I need a solicitor to submit forms to the probate office?

Absolutely not. It is as simple as applying for a passport, or any government benefit. The website at HM Courts & Tribunals Service is well laid out. All forms are available for download, and even if you make a mistake, you are given opportunities to fix errors (but this does add a significant amount of time to the process).

Transferring assets from the UK to another country

There are a variety of approaches to doing this, and I have personally tried at least three.

Sending a cheque

Sending a cheque would seem to have no restrictions on the amount. However, in practice, this isn’t the case. When my sister sent me a cheque to transfer money from a UK account, the cheque was blocked by the bank (Lloyds Bank). A week later my sister received a letter from the bank explaining that they had blocked it because she matched the profile of somebody falling for a “romance scam” (fifty plus year old woman, sending a cheque overseas). Keep in mind that phoning to speak to a high street bank is impossible. It tooks weeks and snail mail letter writing to figure out exactly what had happened.

A funds transfer

Incredibly, a funds transfer was actually a worse experience. Lloyds transferred the funds, but nothing appeared in my bank account in Canada. Again, it was impossible to speak to somebody at Lloyds, but each letter explained that the money had gone. But Royal Bank of Canada had not received it. This is a surprisingly common experience, when with a single mis-typed digit, the funds can go astray. It took four stressful months to track down the funds, and to this day, we don’t know where it had been for that time.

Wire transfers


Finally, we settled on (formerly which was a minimal fee (less than a dollar), stress free process with full audit trails. My sister sent money from her bank to her Wise account. From her Wise account to my Wise account. And then I moved it from my Wise account to my bank account. I have absolutely no affiliation with but it saved me a lot of money, and a lot of stress.

The choice of dying without a Will

If a person dies without a Will, they are leaving a headache for their family. The government website explains:

If the person did not leave a will, the most ‘entitled’ person can apply to become the administrator of the estate.

This is the closest living relative – normally the husband, wife or civil partner (including if you were separated) followed by any children 18 or over (including legally adopted children but not step-children).

Use the inheritance calculator to work out who the closest relative is if there’s no husband, wife, civil partner or children.

You cannot apply if you’re the partner of the person but were not their husband, wife or civil partner when they died.

There is no Executor named, and no distribution plan. The process is also much more complicated.

There is never a situation where it is preferable to die without a Will.

Get your parents to write their Will today

Everybody should have a Will. It takes 20 minutes and costs £49.95 at If your parents don’t have a Will they are leaving you with a mess. I convinced my parents to prepare their Will and used the service at If you have read the article above, the process of sorting out an estate can be a smooth one from start to finish. If your parents still have the capacity to prepare a Will, then sit with them as soon as you can and work through the service at

Are you sure you know how a Will works?

There are a surprising number of misconceptions surrounding the workings of a Last Will and Testament. In this article we want to break down the most important points of a Will, so that you can truly understand how a Will works. Here we discuss ten key elements to a Will. Understand these, and you are on your way to understanding exactly how a Last Will and Testament works.

Understand how a Will works

1. A Will must be written

There are a few different approaches to writing a Will, but even though we are well into the 21st century, there is no getting around the requirement that a Will must be in writing. The law does not allow for a Will to be an audio recording, a video recording, stored on an iPhone, stored on your computer, or verbally explained to a friend.

There are a few odd exceptions to this general statement. For example, a “Nuncupative Will” is a verbal or oral Will that is permitted, but only for an active service person on active duty. This exception to the law was to allow a soldier on the battlefield, mortally wounded, to explain how they would like their assets to be divided. It is a very specific exception, but it is written into UK law.

In Australia, a Will was written on an iPhone and accepted by the courts. But it did have to go to the Supreme court of Queensland, and was accepted under very specific conditions. It is not an approach to take for the rest of us.

Some jurisdictions around the world are also accepting electronically signed Wills. British Columbia in Canada has brought in new legislation to accept a Will written, signed and stored entirely electronically. Four US States also currently accept this. The UK has no plans to allow electronic signatures on Wills.

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How much does it cost to change a Will?

There are different types of change that you may need to make to a Will, and different approaches. You may be surprised when you ask your solicitor or Will writer to make a change, and are quoted £300 or more. This article explains how you can make different types of changes to your Will, and explains the costs involved.

Clerical Errors

You need to simply change the address of somebody named in the Will

If you need to change the address of somebody named in the Will or even your own address, your Will does not need to be updated. You include the address of a beneficiary for two reasons: firstly you must uniquely identify the person, so that if you say

“I leave £1,000 to my friend Brian”

You may find a lot of Brians coming out of the woodwork. However if you say

“I leave £1,000 to my friend Brian Jones, of 123 Factory Street, Rainham, Essex”

There is only one person who could possibly claim to be this particular Brian.

Furthermore, your Executor then has to make sure that Brian receives his £1,000, so putting the full address in the Will may be useful. If you feel that your Executor may struggle to find the beneficiary, by all means include the address, but your Will is written as an instruction to your Executor. It works equally effectively to store your address book with your Will, or alternatively, your Executor could simply ask family members how to contact Brian Jones.

If you move houses, your Executor moves, or any of your beneficiaries change their address, there is no requirement to update your Will. Just make sure that next time you do update the Will, you update the appropriate addresses.

How to change a Will
Do not make changes like this

A person in the Will changes their name

This can happen for people named in a Will who take on a married name. Like the address, as long as it is clear who you are referring to, there is no legal requirement to change your Will. If you refer to your beneficiary as “my daughter Susan Brown” and she takes on the married name of “Susan Green” it is still obvious who this Susan is. Particularly as she was Susan Brown at the time the Will was written.

There may be slight additional administrative steps for probate if your Executor has changed their name, but nothing that cannot be easily resolved.

You have misspelled a person’s name

It can happen – you wrote “Paul MacKartney” and it should have been “McCartney”. Again, if this is a beneficiary, it is not critical, as long as the instruction is clear to your Executor and it is obvious who should be receiving the bequest. In this case, Mr. McCartney would not lose his inheritance just because the name was misspelled. The law requires the Executor to do their best to understand the intentions of the Will. A bequest is never forfeited because of a clerical error.

But this could create a slight issue for the Executor if they are probating the Will and the name is very different. This could in theory also be an issue if you have used a nickname instead of their correct name. Certainly, don’t refer to your Executor as “Spud Jones” when their real name is Neville. You want to give your Executor the minimum amount of friction possible to probate your Will, and this is just inviting a problem.

To summarize, Minor spelling mistakes for a beneficiary’s name are not an issue. However, a significant difference in the Executor’s name should be fixed.

How much does it cost to change a clerical error in your Will?

This type of error in a Will should not cost anything. You can actually manually write on the Will, and then initial that change. You should also have two witnesses initial the change. You are not materially changing a bequest, beneficiary or an appointment, and so you would not need to pay a solicitor to make this type of change.

Changing a person or a bequest in the Will

Creating a new beneficiary in the Will

This is where things start to become more significant. Suppose that you have written your Will and you are completely happy with it. But then you are touched by the work of your local hospital, church or another charity, and you would like to recognise their work in your Will. You would like to add a bequest of £5,000 to that particular charity.

In this case, it is a bad idea to write on the Will, because it is very difficult to establish when that change was made. Although this is a legally acceptable approach to updating the Will (if the change is initialled by yourself and two witnesses), it is wide open to a challenge. Particularly if there is a handwritten insertion of

“and £10,000 to my friend Brian Anderson”

Just imagine if Brian Anderson was the person who was entrusted with the storage and care of the Will. You are simply inviting problems.

Changing an appointee in the Will

There are a few different appointees in your Will: your Executor, your pet caregiver and your guardians for young children. We recommend that you do not handwrite the alteration on your Will when changing any of these.

If the name of your Executor has been manually changed on the Will, the probate courts could reject your Executor’s application for probate.

Manually changing your named pet caregiver may not be an issue unless you feel that this could cause some family conflict. Sometimes a significant amount of money can be involved in this appointment, so it is advisable to make a more formal change to your Will.

When you name a guardian for your young children in your Will, you are providing guidance to the courts. Clearly things can happen between the writing of the Will, and the Will coming into effect, and a change of circumstances may make your selection unqualified. Your chosen guardian also reserves the right to not take on the appointment.

But if there are no changes in circumstances, then the guardian named in your Will would likely be the legal guardian appointed by the courts. Again, we recommend not changing this person with a handwritten annotation on the Will.

How to change a person or a bequest in the Will

There are two correct approaches to changing a person or a bequest in your Will.

You can write a codicil

Codicils were very popular before we had computers and printers. In the days when a Will had to be handwritten, or typed, it was very inconvenient to have to retype the whole document to incorporate one small change. The workaround was to prepare a separate document that made reference to the main document and explained the change. It would say words to the effect of

“In the attached document ‘Last Will and Testament of me, John Smith’ for clause 3 ‘Executor’ replace the name Brian Green, with the name James White of 3, Railway Street, Plymouth, Devon”

The document would then be signed in the presence of two witnesses and then attached to the Will.

Of course, with the technology that we have today, it is just as convenient to prepare a new Will. The signing requirements for a codicil are the same as for a new Will. Codicils can be confusing, particularly, if there is a change to something described in an existing codicil – it can be unclear which parts of the Will are being updated.

We have written in more detail about the problems of codicils in another article.

You can prepare a new Will

In modern times, codicils are rarely the best option. We always recommend preparing a new Will if you are making material changes to your Will that include a change to a beneficiary, bequest or appointee in the Will.

If you use a Will writing service like the one at, this is very straightforward. You would simply login to your account, click through to the page where you name the Executor, make the change and then print the new version of your Will. The new document must then be signed in the presence of two witnesses.

Naming an Executor at

If you have an active account, there is absolutely no charge for doing this, and the process takes about 5 minutes. You can updated your Will from your armchair at home. Which brings us to the main topic of this article.

How much does it cost to change a Will?

There are generally three approaches to writing your Will, which means that there are also three approaches to changing your Will.

If you have handwritten your Will

Legally, you can write your Will on a piece of paper. If it is entirely handwritten, it is called a holographic Will, and this is legal in the UK. However, it is generally a bad idea. Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul chose this method. She died in 2018 and her assets are all still tied up in legal disputes that are costing millions of pounds.

Aretha Franklin’s Will

The cost to make changes to this type of Will, is, errr, nothing. However, the cost to your family and loved ones is incalculable. There will most likely be confusion, disputes, and a lot of money spent on solicitor’s fees.

If you have written your Will with a Solicitor

This is one of the most confusing aspects of making a change to an existing Will. If you return to your solicitor requesting a change, your solicitor will almost always recommend that you prepare a new Will. In fact, they will usually refuse to work with a single clause without reviewing the complete document. As a result, it can seem to be an exorbitant fee. Usually to make a change to a bequest, or beneficiary within a Will, a solicitor will charge about £300 to £500 – the cost of preparing the initial Will.

In fact, many people who come to do so after experiencing this very thing. They wrote their Will with a solicitor and then realised that it would cost them several hundreds of pounds every time they needed to make a change. It’s also worth keeping in mind that your Will may need to be changed many times throughout your life – whenever anybody named in the Will has a change of circumstances.

For example, if your alternate Executor has been taken ill. If you have written your Will with a solicitor you probably wouldn’t make the effort to set up an appointment to make that minor change to the document. But that leaves your Will less than complete as you do not have a backup Executor. You would have to weigh up the cost and inconvenience of making that change against the risk of having no backup in place.

If you have written your Will with an online Will writing service

This is one of the key advantages to using an online Will writing service like the one at We provide a complete review of different online Will writing services elsewhere on this website.

Most online Will writing services allow you to make changes to your Will any time you have an active account. You simply login to your account, navigate to the part of the Will that needs to be updated and change the information. You then download and print a new document to be signed in the presence of witnesses.

The cost for updating your Will with an online Will writing service is usually nothing at all.

What do I do with my existing Will?

If you have previously written your Will with a solicitor, and have been quoted several hundreds of pounds to make an update, you may be considering using an online Will service like ours at But it may be awkward to have the discussion with your solicitor asking for them to dispose of your existing Will because you have chosen to use an online Will writing service.

The good news is that you don’t need to have this discussion.

If you prepare a new Will using the service at it automatically revokes (cancels) any previous Will or codicil. This means that once it is signed by you, dated and the witnesses sign, any previous Will is automatically nullified. Your old Will does nothing at this point.

Ideally, you shouldn’t have a number of different versions of your Will in circulation (this is one of the problems with Aretha Franklin’s affairs, she had a number of Wills tucked away all over her house). But if it isn’t practical to destroy old versions of your Will, it doesn’t matter too much. Only your most recently signed document is your Last Will and Testament. Your previous Wills do nothing.

Update your Will today

If you have an existing Will and you are looking for a fast, affordable way to make a change to this Will, we recommend that you prepare a Will with The cost is £49.95 and it takes about 20 minutes.

How can I update my Will?

Most people don’t have a Will. And of those who do, many are not kept up to date. We often hear from people who prepared a Will decades ago, sometimes before they had children. They have a sense of knowing that their Will is in place, but they know in their heart that the Will is out-of-date, and probably doesn’t reflect their wishes. They need to update a Will, but they are not sure how to do it in the most cost effective way.

Unfortunately, the traditional approach to writing a Will is expensive and inconvenient. The same applies to updating a Will. The reason why people don’t update their Will is that same reason that most people don’t have a Will at all – there simply isn’t the time to get it done.

Fortunately, there are now a number of options to making sure that your Will is up-to-date.

Using a codicil to Update a Will
credit: 123rf

When do I need to update my Will?

1. If your Will is automatically cancelled.

There is only one situation where your Will ceases to function (other than the document being destroyed) – If you get married, and your Will was written before you got married (unless the Will specifically states that it was written in contemplation of marriage).

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Probate in the UK; What is probate, and what does it cost?

There are two ways to die in the UK; with a Will, and without a Will. If you are clever, you would choose the former. There is never a time when planning to die without a Will makes sense. But whether or not you have a Will makes a difference when it comes to the probate process.

If you have a Will, you will have named an “Executor“. This person has the responsibility to gather and secure your assets, and then distribute them according to the instructions in the Will. They also have responsibility to carry out all of the paperwork associated with your “estate” (everything that you owned when you died).

Imagine the day after you have died. Your Executor goes to your bank and explains to the bank cashier that they are your Executor, and that you would like all of the money from the account. The Executor may even have a Will.

Imagine the cashier obliges, and hands over the £50,000.

credit: 123rf

The next day, somebody else arrives at the bank, but they have a different Will, which names them as the Executor, and they want the contents of the bank account. Their Will is signed and dated after the other Will.

This person had already secured the money from a Building Society account across the other side of town.

It is this type of mess that is avoided by the probate process.


What is Probate?

Probate is the process by which your Will is accepted as your official, legal Last Will and Testament. It is an opportunity for people to challenge that Will. It is also the process by which your estate administrator is appointed, either as the Executor named in your Will, or as an administrator nominated by the courts if there is no Will. This person is given a court issued document that gives them the authority to act as your estate administrator.

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