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 LegalWills.co.uk, 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 LegalWills.co.uk

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 LegalWills.co.uk 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 LegalWills.co.uk. 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 LegalWills.co.uk. 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 LegalWills.co.uk 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 LegalWills.co.uk. The cost is £39.95 and it takes about 20 minutes.

How to write a Will without leaving your home – is it possible?

Writing a Will is a task that most people know is important. We know that putting a Will in place saves our family and loved ones from a great deal of anxiety and trouble after you have passed away. There is never a situation where not having a Will is a better plan than having one. But you may be wondering how to write a Will without leaving your home, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Will is something that never seems to make it to the top of the ToDo list. In fact, most surveys put the number of UK adults without a Will at about 60-65 percent. Of those that do have a Will, many are not kept up-to-date.

But we are now living in very unusual and uncertain times. During the COVID-19 pandemic an increasing number of people are finally getting Will writing off their To Do list. At LegalWills.co.uk we have seen a dramatic surge over the last 8 months in the number of people preparing their Will.

But although COVID-19 has made people more aware of the importance of writing a Will , it has presented it’s own challenges with tiered lockdowns and family bubbles.

But there has been some changes in the law to help people prepare their Will during a pandemic. So the question remains:

Is it possible to write a Will without leaving your home?

How to write a Will without leaving your home
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Signing your Will – how the recent law change can help you finally write your Will.

The legal statute that describes the requirements for signing your Will was written in 1837. That same year, Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, Michigan became the 26th US State, and Samuel Morse invented the telegraph.

It was a long, long time ago.

The 1837 Wills Act states that in order for a Will to be valid:

(a) it is in writing, and signed by the testator, or by some other person in his presence and by his direction; and
(b) it appears that the testator intended by his signature to give effect to the will; and
(c) the signature is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time; and
(d) each witness either—
(i) attests and signs the will; or
(ii) acknowledges his signature, in the presence of the testator (but not necessarily in the presence of any other witness),but no form of attestation shall be necessary.

Signing a Will
credit: 123rf

So let us break down exactly what this law means. And discuss the implications of this law in 2020, with particular consideration of COVID-19.

“A Will must be in writing”

In the context of the Wills Act, this means that you must write it down. You cannot verbally tell somebody what you would like done with your possessions. If you simply tell somebody, it is not compliant with the Wills Act, and a verbal promise has no legal standing.

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Will writing in troubled times

Today’s blog post isn’t quite like anything we’ve done before. We felt, all things considered, that it was important to connect with you all on a more human level. Even though we’re still working away behind the scenes, it certainly isn’t ‘business as usual’ for us — or for anyone for that matter.

It’s hard to ignore that things aren’t really all that ‘normal’. A lot of us are feeling uneasy, scared even, about what the future could possibly have in store. Those are natural feelings to have about the situation, considering there’s no official end date in sight to this crisis state we’re in. 

There is one particular group who, despite their fear and worries, are being asked to step up. We’re talking about front line healthcare workers; the unsung heroes who are risking their lives to keep us out of harm’s way. The doctors, nurses, caregivers, and medical staff are working around the clock in our hospitals; putting the care of others ahead of their own physical and emotional well-being.

Our CTO, Henry Raud, has a daughter who is a Registered Nurse, working on the front lines to diagnose and care for COVID-19 patients. “Every day, I am concerned about my daughter contracting this virus, especially given that thousands of healthcare workers around the world have already been infected, and far too many of whom have died. As a father, I can’t help but feel concerned for my daughter’s safety. But more than anything, I am extremely proud of her for what she is doing to help people to get through this crisis. She absolutely loves what she is doing, despite all the risks. I can’t imagine any father being more proud than I am right now. And I am thankful for all of the other healthcare workers out there, risking their lives in the same way to help everyone that they can.”

Healthcare workers, just like Henry’s daughter, are keeping our families, friends, and communities safe. Even with a dangerously low supply of PPE and medical resources across the board, they continue to show up to do their part to help us all through this. They are protecting those nearest and dearest to us — and we wanted to do our part to help protect what’s nearest and dearest to them; their families, their friends, their assets. It really is the least we could do.

That is why we have decided to join our peers in the online estate planning community in offering free Wills and Power of Attorneys to our healthcare heroes. These healthcare heroes are being directed to get their affairs in order, while they continue to combat this disease. Helping facilitate the process for them is the best way that we can give back.

Our mandate has always been to make estate planning affordable and convenient, and it is our core belief that every adult should have a Will, Power of Attorney, and Living Will in place. We have worked for 20 years to remove the barriers to doing this. Especially now, the importance of being able to prepare these documents from the comfort of your home comes into sharp focus.

To start working on your Will, please send an email to [email protected] from your healthcare work email account with your Name and Employee ID. There you will receive instructions on opening your account and preparing your Will.

Thank you! We truly appreciate everything that you do to keep us well!

Tim Hewson, CEO, LegalWills