You must be 18 years old or over to make a legally valid will, however, exceptions to the minimum age are made if you are on active military service.
However, many people leave making a will until they are much older. The average age people make a will in the UK is 58, but making a will is not something that should be put off. Although we all wish for a long and happy life, we can’t know what is around the corner, and it is always better to be prepared.
Making a will is often dictated, not by age, but by events in our lives. Certain life events, such as marriage and having children, drive us to think more about planning for the future and are important milestones in our lives that make us stop and think about the practicalities of life. Making a will is an important step in ensuring your loved ones are provided for and your wishes are carried out.
So rather than suggesting a particular age when you should think about making a will, it is better to look at life stages and events when having an up to date will in place becomes more important.
When you leave home, start working and become financially independent from your parents you might want to think about who you would like to benefit from your assets. If you die without a will, under intestacy rules your assets would pass to your parents, however, you may wish to change who receives your assets or what proportion they receive. If you have a partner, especially if you live with them but are not married, and you would wish for them to receive some or all of your assets, it is especially important to have a will in place. It is also important to have a will in place if you own your own home.
Buying a Home
Buying a home is often the biggest purchase we make in our lifetime. It is usually one of our largest assets and therefore it is not surprising that buying a house is one of the most common stages in our lives to make or update a will. Having a will in place means that you can decide who benefits from your estate. This is particularly important if you own the house with someone else. If you buy the property jointly with someone else, such as a friend, family member or partner, who inherits your share of the property will be dependent upon whether you own the property ‘jointly’ or as ‘tenants in common’. You can find out more about this in our Q&A on this topic.
Getting Married or Entering a Civil Partnership
When you get married or enter a civil partnership, any existing will that you may have is revoked. It is therefore very important that you make a new will and think about the provisions you would like to make for your family. You may wish to divide your estate in a different way to intestacy rules, and therefore it is very important to have a will in place.
If you are re-marrying, it is also very important to consider how your estate will be divided, to ensure your estate is passed on in accordance with your wishes. Unless you make a will stating otherwise, your second husband or wife could automatically inherit everything, or the majority of your estate when you die. If you have children from a previous relationship, they could inherit nothing, or very little, and this might not be how you would wish for your estate to be divided. This can lead to family disagreements; therefore, it is important to make a will and discuss your wishes with family members. The rising number of second marriages and relationships involving older couples has led to an increasing number of disputes over wills in the last few years. Read more about this on our Contesting a Will page.
Getting Divorced or Separating
If your personal circumstances change, such as by getting divorced or separating from your partner, you may wish to review who benefits from your estate when you die. Getting divorced doesn’t automatically revoke a will, but it may change the way your assets are divided. For inheritance tax purposes, in relation to your will, the law views your ex-partner as if they had died. Therefore, if your will does not specify what should happen in this situation, your estate may be divided according to intestacy rules, which may not be as you would have wished. It should be a priority to review your will if you are planning to or have recently divorced to ensure your will still meets your requirements.
Making a will is not just about who gets what when you die, a will also allows you to choose who will look after your children should you pass away by appointing guardians. This is an important consideration for parents, as although no parent wants to think about a time when they wouldn’t be there to care for their child, it is important to ensure you have plans in place to make sure your children will be taken care of by someone you choose and trust. A will also allow you to specify what assets you want to give to your children on your death, to ensure they are provided for in the future.
Many grandparents wish to leave money or assets to their grandchildren through their will. If your grandchildren are young, it is wise to consider setting up a wills trust to ensure the assets only pass to the child when they are old enough and mature enough to manage the asset. It is worth taking inheritance tax advice and legal advice to choose the right trust for you and to assess the inheritance tax implications.
Having a serious or terminal illness
If you are suffering from a terminal illness or an illness that might affect your capacity in the future, many people wish to make or update their will to ensure their estate passes to the people they wish. Sometimes, those who have received support or care from a charity during an illness may also wish to leave a legacy to the charity in their will.
Funeral wishes can be included in a will, however, it is important to note that these wishes are not legally binding and often funeral arrangements may begin before a will is read or found. Therefore, it is incredibly important to share your wishes with family members.
You might also wish to consider creating a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which is a legal document that enables you to appoint someone (known as an Attorney/Attorneys) to make decisions on your behalf at a future time when you may not be able to. You can create two types of LPA: a Property and Financial Affairs LPA and a Health and Welfare LPA. You can read more about LPAs here.