A couple look at eachother smiling.

Step-by-step guide to leaving a gift in your will

  1. Choose who you’d like to include in your will (individuals, organisations, charities)
    You can leave a gift in your will to whoever you wish. This typically includes family, friends, and charities that you wish to benefit from your legacy. These are your beneficiaries.
  2. Decide what gifts you would like to give
    There are different types of gifts you can leave. A residuary gift is what is left of your estate when debts, taxes and other gifts have been paid. Your estate is your property and assets that are left after you die. A pecuniary gift is a gift of a specified amount of money. A specific gift is a particular item or collection of items.
  3. Choose your executors
    Your executor takes on the role of carrying out the instructions left in your will. It can be a complicated process and often takes many months. Many people choose their loved ones to act in this capacity. It is generally advisable to have between 2 and 4 executors. You can also choose a professional executor such as a solicitor. A professional executor can also be appointed at a later date by your loved ones.

    Some charities such as Macmillan can act as an executor of your will. It is important to make them aware of this when you write your will. Macmillan will appoint a reputable and cost-efficient professional to support this process. Professional executors will make a charge for their services and this is usually deducted from the value of your estate. We have lots of information for executors of wills.
  4. Calculate the potential value of your estate
    Your estate includes any property, cash, bank and savings accounts, stocks and shares, and personal possessions you own. Any outstanding bills, debts and invoices must be deducted to establish the potential value of your estate. In some cases inheritance tax may be payable.
  5. Consider inheritance tax
    Inheritance tax is a complicated matter. It is charged (usually at 40%) on your estate above the threshold. More information can be found on the HMRC website.
  6. Write your will, consider Macmillan’s Free Will Service
    When writing a will you should use a professional will writer. Your will must be signed and witnessed. It is advisable to keep copies of your will where it can be easily located upon your death. Professional will writers will make a charge for writing a will. As an alternative charities like Macmillan offer a free will service.
  7. If you have left a gift to Macmillan, please let us know
    We would love to keep you informed of our vital work and to pass on a thank you. Gifts left in wills make up more than a third of Macmillan’s income. It is down to your generosity we can continue to help more people living with cancer.
  8. Keep your will safe
    Professional executors may offer to store your will. You should retain copies with your personal possessions in a place that is easy to find. Many people provide copies of their will to the named executors. If you have multiple executors, it is advisable to give each a copy or at least make them aware of where the will is kept.

    We also have information to help you protect yourself from Will fraud.
  9. Keep your will up to date
    This is particularly important if your circumstances change. Simple changes can be effected by a codicil. More complex changes will require a new will. It is advisable to ensure your old will is destroyed or clearly marked as an old version.

You may find it useful to take a look at our wills glossary which explains some of the legal terms you are likely to come across.

Types of gifts in a will

If you choose to leave a gift in your will, there are different types for you to choose from.


A residuary gift is a share of your estate. Your estate refers to everything you owned, including money in your bank account, investments, and physical belongings such as your property and furnishings. You can leave a specific percentage of the value of your estate after any taxes or costs have been subtracted.

Residuary gifts account for 85% of the income we receive from gifts in wills. Whilst occasionally someone leaves us their whole estate, many people choose to leave a small percentage. On average, we receive around a quarter of their estate. Whatever you are able to give to Macmillan will make an incredible difference to people affected by cancer.


A pecuniary gift is a fixed amount of money.


These are particular items, such as a house, stocks and shares or jewellery. Anything that's of financial value to you. Usually Macmillan will sell items like this in order to raise much needed funds.


If you think you would like to create a trust in your will we recommend speaking to your solicitor. The most common trusts are where a supporter gives a friend or relative the opportunity to live in their house for the rest of their life - with Macmillan receiving the house once the friend or relative has died. There are, however, many other uses for trusts.


We have recently created the Macmillan Endowment Fund for supporters to donate to. Any money given to the endowment fund will be invested, with any income earned being spent on supporting people affected by cancer.

Find out more information about the Macmillan Endowment fund.

Why Jackie is leaving a gift in her will

"I had cancer but I came through it. You have such amazing support – from the people who have cancer with you, but also the nurses and doctors and those who take such an interest in you. I feel very lucky that I’ve had such amazing care.

I have seen about leaving money in your will and how much work it can do. I’ve already had the greatest gift, the gift of life. So if Don and I can leave something that will make a difference to other families or even one family, it’ll be worth it."

Suggested wording for leaving a gift in your will to Macmillan

When writing or updating your will, we would recommend using a solicitor or an experienced will writer. It doesn't have to be expensive, and you can look around for different quotes to get a good deal. You can also have your will written by one of Macmillan's will writing partners using our Free Will Service.

The most important bits of information to include are our name, address and registered charity number:

Macmillan Cancer Support, 89 Albert Embankment. London SE1 7UQ
Registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). For Northern Ireland, we do not have a registered charity number but the England and Wales charity number can be used to identify us.

Wording for a residuary gift

I give the residue of my estate (or I give; _____% of the residue of my estate) to Macmillan Cancer Support, 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UQ (Registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604) for its general charitable purposes absolutely. I further direct that the receipt of the Chief Executive or other proper officer of the said charity for the time being shall be a full and sufficient discharge for the said gift.

Wording for a pecuniary gift of money or an item

I give the sum of £_____  to Macmillan Cancer Support, 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UQ (Registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604) for its general charitable purposes absolutely. I further direct that the receipt of the Chief Executive or other proper officer of the said charity for the time being shall be a full and sufficient discharge for the said gift.

Reasons to consider updating your will

Once your will is written it's a good idea to review it every five years or so and after any major life changes, such as:

  • marriage or divorce
  • birth of a child or grandchild
  • moving house
  • your executor is no longer suitable
  • the value of your estate has changed.

Christina's decision to leave a gift in her will

"When you are diagnosed it is impossible to have too much information. Probably more than once a day, I visit the Macmillan website which I have found to be a goldmine of information.

I am very aware that cancer will affect one in two people and that I have a high chance of relapse. This means that some of my family and friends are likely to need cancer services in the future as well as myself.

I have already changed my will to leave a substantial legacy to Macmillan, and I am highly motivated to do whatever I can to contribute to making cancer services the best they can be across the country."

Frequently Asked Questions

Getting started on your will

  • When should you write a will?

    You can write your will from the age of 18 onward. It is beneficial to complete a will even if you feel there is no urgency for it. It means that you can relax knowing your wishes will be carried out.

  • Do I need a solicitor to write a will?  

    You don’t need to use a solicitor, you can actually write your own will. However, we always advise people to use a professional will writing service. This is because mistakes in your will can cause a lot of stress and expense for your family and beneficiaries.

    For many people a simple will produced by a good will writing service is more than sufficient for their needs. But for others, advice from a solicitor may be beneficial. You may wish to get advice if:

    • have assets in excess of their Inheritance Tax threshold (see 'Gifts in wills and tax' answer below),
    • you have a large or complex family, or wish to create some form of trust arrangements
  • How do I choose a will writer or solicitor?

    There are many services that can help you write a will, including Macmillan.

    • Macmillan's Free Will Service - we have partnered with trusted will writing providers to offer our free will service. You get to choose the will writing partner and channel which suits you. Please note, if you use this service there is no obligation to leave a gift in your will to Macmillan, although we really hope you’ll consider it.
    • Trade unions - if you are a member of a trade union, they sometimes have a will writing service.
    • Will writers - you should be careful with this route as will writing services are not regulated. Citizens Advice advise using one that belongs to the Institute of Professional Willwriters. The key thing here is to do your research and get quotes from each will writing service. 

    It can be difficult to choose from the hundreds of solicitors available. You can use our Free Will Service to help you find a legal professional. They will be able to write your will online, via post, telephone, or face to face, either in-branch or at home.

    Or, if you’d rather not use our service, we recommend contacting the Law Society to find a list of solicitors near you.

    In England and Wales, go to lawsociety.org.uk, or call 020 7242 1222.

    In Scotland, contact the Law Society of Scotland at lawscot.org.uk, or call 013 1226 7411.

    In Northern Ireland, contact the Law Society of Northern Ireland at lawsoc-ni.org, or call 028 9023 1614.


  • How much does it cost to write a will?

    The cost of writing a will depends on which service you use and how complicated it is going to be. It's important to do your research and choose the service which most suits you. Going via a solicitor will increase the price, so you should always get quotes from different services before work begins on your will.

    There are also free wills services out there offered by many charities, including Macmillan. Note that these free will writing services often only cover the cost of standard wills (single wills or simple joint wills). For more complicated wills, we recommend you talk to one of our solicitor partners (Irwin Mitchell, Jones Whyte, Octopus Legacy or Wilson Nesbitt). We have more information on this here.

    For more information on free wills, Which? has a helpful guide.

  • Can I write my own will?

    Yes, you can. Please note, Citizens Advice recommend that you only write a will yourself if the will is going to be straightforward. A straightforward will would be one where your wishes are very simple i.e. you would like to leave everything to your partner.

    If you need help with the structure, you can buy a writing a will template from stationery shops such as WHSmith. Or you can download one online.


About your will

  • Can I have the same will as my partner?

    Yes, the Macmillan Free Will Service can cover the cost of simple joint wills. There are two types of joint wills you can have:

    • Mirror wills - these are two separate wills for two people, which set out the same wishes within both.
    • Mutual wills - these are two separate wills for two people, which set out the same wishes within both. They are similar to mirror wills, except this type of will cannot be altered after one person passes away.
  • What should you not write in a will?

    There is no strict guidance on this. If you were to use Macmillan's Free Will Service one of our will writing partners will be able to advise you on what should not be included.

  • How do I ensure my will is valid?

    For a will to be valid, there are certain conditions that must be met:

    • the will must be made by a person who is 18 years old or over
    • your will must be made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person
    • your will must be on paper, a ‘soft’ copy on a computer is not valid
    • your will must be signed by you, in the presence of and two witnesses and signed by the two witnesses, in your presence
    • witnesses can be anyone over 18 but cannot be a beneficiary of your will, nor the spouse or civil partner of a beneficiary of your will. Where a beneficiary witnesses the will any gifts to them fail.
    • witnesses do not need to read your will or be aware of its contents.

    More information on ensuring that your will is valid can be found on the Citizens Advice website.

  • Where should I keep my will?

    This is entirely up to you. The document should be kept in a safe place and you should make your executors aware of where it is kept. You should always have a copy of your will even if a solicitor stores it for you.

  • How can I change my existing will?

    If you need to make any changes to your will, these will need to be made in writing and signed and witnessed by two people (one in Scotland) in the same way as the original will.

    This can be done by creating a new document, known as a codicil, which adds to or amends the original will. This needs to be stored with and read in conjunction with the will. However, codicils are increasingly uncommon as it is now so much simpler to produce a new will with the amendments incorporated which replaces the earlier will.

    We always recommend taking professional advice in relation to wills and codicils to minimise the chance of problems interpreting or implementing your wishes.

  • Gifts in wills and tax

    Inheritance Tax is complex. If you think that your estate may be subject to it, we strongly recommend taking advice from a solicitor or financial advisor who may be able to structure you’re estate in a more tax efficient way. We hope the following will help you identify if Inheritance Tax might be payable on your UK estate.

    The simplest way to avoid Inheritance Tax is to leave everything to your spouse, civil partner or charity as these gifts are always free of inheritance tax.

    Where you are leaving gifts to people other than your spouse, civil partner or charity you have a nil rate band, currently £325,000, available which you can give without your estate being liable for Inheritance Tax. Some people may also have an additional sum, the transferable nil rate band, which is available where your spouse or civil partner has died and not used all of their nil rate band.  If that is the case, you are able to use anything that remained of their nil rate band. This could mean you can give £650,000 to friends and family without inheritance tax being due.

    Anything you give away to friends and family, over and above your nil rate band and transferable nil rate band, is known as your taxable estate. This will incur tax at 40% unless you give 10% of your taxable estate to charity, in which case the rate of tax is reduced to 36%.

  • What is the impact of gifts in wills to Macmillan?

    Gifts in wills account for almost a third of all donations that go towards providing Macmillan's vital services.

    You can have a look at how your gift might impact Macmillan or read our Annual Report to see the incredible difference our supporters' gifts made last year.

  • Can I specify how my gift is used?

    Absolutely. Although it is important for us to invest in areas of greatest need, we understand you may want to fund a specific Macmillan service. If you want to specify how Macmillan should use your gift, please express this clearly alongside the gift in your will.

    Where your gift is for a specific purpose, we are bound to use the funds exactly as specified. This can sometimes present a challenge. For example, if a hospital or hospice has closed, or if we are not operating in the specified location at the time of receiving your gift. In situations like these, we would need to apply to the Charity Commission to be able to use the funds as closely as possible to the original purpose.

    To avoid these complications, we recommend you express your wishes in the form of a non-binding wish and be more general rather than specific:
    “It is my wish but without creating any legally binding obligation that my gift is used to fund Macmillan Cancer Support’s clinical services in Yorkshire”.

    Macmillan will always aim to follow your wishes. In the event of being unable to do so, we will use the gift as closely as possible to the original spirit of the gift. This means your gift can be put to immediate use in helping people living with cancer.

    If you would like more information on restricting your gift, please contact our supporter care team on 0300 1000 200.