Making a will

Writing a will ensures that what you leave when you die goes to the people you want it to.

Dying without a will is called dying intestate. If you die without a will, it can take longer to deal with your estate (your property, personal things and money). And it may mean that the people who inherit the estate are not the people you would have chosen.

It is usually best to use a solicitor when making or updating your will. They will make sure your wishes are clear and that they are carried out exactly as you want.

Before you meet with a solicitor, it may help to think about:

  • what you want to leave in your will
  • who you want to include in your will
  • names of the people you want to sort out your estate (your executors)
  • names of who you want to be guardians for your children (if you have children)
  • names of who you want to look after anyone dependent on you (your dependants).


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Why make a will?

Whatever your age, having an up-to-date and valid will is important. Dying without a will means that your wishes for who you would like to leave your estate to cannot be guaranteed. Your estate is your property, personal things and money.

If you die without a will, it is known as dying intestate. When someone dies intestate, it often takes much longer to deal with the estate and it can be more complicated and difficult for the family members responsible for sorting out your affairs. There are strict rules known as intestacy rules, which say:

  • who should deal with the affairs of the person who has died
  • who should inherit the estate.

This may mean that the people who inherit the estate are not the people you would have chosen.

If you have a partner but are not married or in a civil partnership with them, they may not get what you wish them to have without a will. This is the case even if you have lived with a partner for years. It is worth getting advice about this from a solicitor or from someone at Citizens Advice.


Involving a solicitor

A professionally written will can help reduce any problems or arguments in the future. Although you can write a will yourself, it is best to use a solicitor when making or updating your will. This is to make sure you follow legal procedures and that your will is valid. The process does not have to be lengthy or expensive.

It is worth looking around or asking for a quote before committing yourself to a specific solicitor.

If you need help finding a local solicitor, you can contact the Law Society of Northern Ireland.


Things to think about when making your will

It will help to think about the following things before you meet with a solicitor.


What to leave in your will and working out the value of your estate

You may want to start by making a list of everything you own (your assets) and how much they are worth. This might include your:

  • house
  • car
  • jewellery
  • bank and building society accounts
  • savings accounts
  • life insurance policies.

Then make a list of everything you owe (your liabilities) and how much these add up to. This may include how much is left on your mortgage and any overdrafts, credit card debts and bank loans.

Add up the value of everything you own and take away the total amount you owe. This will then give you the value of your estate.

Who to include in your will

Make a list of the family and friends you want to remember in your will. Then think about what you want to leave them. For example, you might want to give someone a specific amount of money, or a piece of jewellery. You may also want to consider leaving money to an organisation or charity.

Other important information

Other things you will need to think about include:

  • who you want to be responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will (your executors)
  • who you want to be the legal guardians of your children (if you have children and they are under the age of 18)
  • who you want to look after anyone dependent on you (your dependants)
  • what, if any, funeral instructions you may have
  • who you would like to look after your pets, if you have any.

You can get more information about making a will from organisations such as Age NI and the Law Society of Northern Ireland.


Meeting with a solicitor

When you meet with your solicitor it will help to take your completed lists of:

  • the things you want to leave in your will
  • who you want to include in your will
  • names of the people you want to be responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will (your executors)
  • names of who you want to be guardians for your children 
  • names of who you want to look after anyone dependent on you.

After your first meeting with a solicitor, you should arrange a follow-up appointment. This is so you can check that your will has been drafted according to your wishes. Once you are happy with it, it will need to be witnessed and signed.

It is important to keep your will updated to reflect any big changes in your life. For example, if you have had children or grandchildren, or met a new partner, you might want to update it to include them. Or you may need to update it to take account of changes in your finances.

It is a good idea to leave your up-to-date will somewhere safe and easy to find. For example, you can leave it with your solicitor. Keep a copy for yourself and make sure those responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will know where it is.

Back to Advance care planning in Northern Ireland

Planning ahead

Planning ahead can help people know what care you would like if you become unable to make choices yourself.

Your wishes for your care

When planning ahead, it is important to think about how and where you would like to be cared for.

Enduring Power of Attorney

An Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) allows you to choose other people to make decisions on your behalf.

Funeral planning

Planning your funeral in advance means your family and friends can arrange the type of funeral you would like.