DIY wills – what you need to know

Templates for DIY wills are cheap and easy to find – you can get them online or from stationery shops. But it’s not always a good idea to write your will yourself. We’ll help you to decide.

Your options for writing your own will

In theory, you could scribble your will on a piece of scrap paper. As long as it was properly signed and witnessed by two adult independent witnesses who are present at the time you sign your will, it should be legally binding. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Most wills follow some general rules for what you say and how you say it. These standard ways of writing things are tried and tested and they remove any confusion about what you mean – even if the language seems unusual at first.

Using the wrong wording could mean that your instructions aren’t followed, or even that your will isn’t valid. So it’s a good idea to use a template that has the standard sections and legal terms already included.

You can get a will template or will pack from stationery shops and online services – they usually cost £10 to £30.

When it’s a good idea to write your own will

In general you should only write your own will if your wishes are very simple, for example, if you’re married and:

  • you want to leave everything to your husband or wife, and
  • if they die before you, you want to leave everything to your children

If there’s anything more complicated than that – for example, if you have step-children or you aren’t married to your partner – you should probably use a solicitor or a will writing service.

When you shouldn’t write your own will

You should definitely use professional help to write your will if:

  • you’re trying to reduce your Inheritance Tax bill
  • you own a business that you’re leaving to someone as part of your will
  • you own property abroad
  • you have foreign investments or bank accounts
  • you have people who are financially dependent on you other than your immediate family
  • your will includes any wishes that might be misunderstood or are even slightly complex

What are the risks of a DIY will?

The general message is – only use a DIY will if your wishes are very simple and your financial situation isn’t complicated.

You might save money up front compared with using a professional service, but if you get anything wrong you could be stirring up trouble for your family and friends when it comes to sorting out your finances after you’ve died.

Remember that, if you use a will template, the company that supplies it won’t take any responsibility for your will being correctly made. If you make any mistakes which cause problems when your will is read, there won’t be any legal comeback at all.

If you get it badly wrong, it could even mean that your will is invalid and the law decides who your money and property should go to.

If you do decide to write your own will

If you’re happy to write your own will, make absolutely sure you’ve covered these key points.

  • Make sure the will is signed, dated and witnessed correctly. The template should show you what you need to do.
  • Carefully check your spelling – be extra careful with the spelling of people’s names.
  • Be specific – for example, don’t just leave everything to ‘my wife’ – use your wife’s full name.
  • Destroy any old wills – if you already have a will, make sure you destroy the old one and make sure the new one clearly states that it revokes the old one. The template you use should give you instructions on how to do this properly.
  • Tell your executor where the will is to be kept. They’ll need to know when you die.