It’s normal to want to think about what will happen after your death. It's not morbid, making a will is a thoughtful and effective way of taking care of the people you love. A will allows for the transfer of your possessions to people of your choice but it is much more than that.
In a will the person making the will (called the testator) states who is to be responsible for putting the will into action after the death. The person or persons appointed are called ‘executor’. Winding up an estate is an intimate process and choosing an appropriate executor is important to many people. A will may also contain directions as to guardianship of children and other matters such as funeral directions which are very important to some people. A well written will can spare families painful decisions, arguments, bureaucratic hassles and costs.
Conversely if someone dies without making a will the person is said to have died ‘intestate’ - then the law of intestate succession comes into effect. That law states who inherits the possessions of the deceased and who is entitled to apply to be appointed executor. The people inheriting the property and winding up the estate may not always be the people the deceased would have chosen – there is a complex order of succession. This order of succession gives precedence to any surviving spouse and children but there are financial limits on inheritances which can produce unusual results. For example a surviving spouse is entitled to inherit a matrimonial home only up to a certain value. Over that value and there is not an automatic right that the spouse has to inherit it. Blood and marriage ties are recognised before non formal relationships. In these days of informal relationships and more fluid family arrangements many feel the current law of intestate succession is somewhat rigid and out of date. Certainly it is generally much better for families if a will is in place. For many, putting their affairs in order clears their minds of worry and can bring a deep sense of satisfaction. This can leave the individual free to enjoy the present time.
Making a will is nothing like as expensive or difficult as many might think, but it is a legal document and must be properly prepared. It is usually best to use a solicitor who will be able to draft the will making sure wishes are clearly and validly expressed. All solicitors will quote costs prior to carrying out work the completion of most wills will not involve more than a couple of consultations with a solicitor (See also the note on Legal Aid in Scotland Below).
Where a solicitor drafts a will for someone the firm will normally store the document for the testator and provide the testator with a copy. The testator should store that document with other personal papers.
Age Scotland produces a fact sheet Making your will specifically for people in Scotland who want to make a will.
A printed form, Instructions for My Next of Kin and Executors upon My Death is available from Age UK by telephoning 0800 00 99 66 (free call) or writing to:
(Please send a stamped addressed envelope).
You can use this form to list details and documents which may be needed to register your death, as well as where to find these documents.
Your bank details, building society and insurance policies can be listed on the form. It’s helpful to leave details of where these are kept. There are spaces for details of your accountant, solicitor and tax inspector. It's always sensible for an individual to advise the appointed executor of the whereabouts of all relevant documents.
Many people qualify for help with the cost of writing a will. Further information about this is available from the Scottish Legal Aid Board website or by calling the Legal Aid Helpline on 0845 122 8686.