Sorting out your affairs

By sorting out your financial affairs, you can make sure your wishes are followed in the future. It may also mean there is one less thing for you and your family or friends to worry about. This could include:

  • writing a will
  • putting funeral plans in place
  • sorting out what will happen to your possessions (your estate).

Writing a will makes sure that what you leave when you die goes to the people you want it to. Some charities offer a free will-writing service, which you may find useful. But it is a good idea to speak to an independent solicitor too. If you die without a will, it can take longer and be more complicated to deal with your estate.

If your family and friends don’t know what type of funeral you would like, arranging a funeral may be stressful for them. By telling them what you want, your funeral is more likely to reflect your wishes.

Our financial team on 0808 808 00 00 can give you free guidance on all these issues.

Why make a will?

A will is a legal document that gives instructions about who you want to inherit your money and belongings. Writing a will makes sure everything you leave when you die (your estate) goes to the people you want it to.

If you die without making a will, it is called dying intestate. It often takes much longer to deal with the estate if you die without a will. It may also mean that the people who inherit the estate are not the people you would have chosen.

Who will inherit my estate without a will?

What happens will depend on which part of the UK you live in and your situation:

  • If you have a husband, wife or civil partner, or you have children, your estate may be split between these people. This includes adopted children, but not stepchildren (unless you have adopted them).
  • If you have a partner, but you are not married, they have no legal right to inherit anything. This is the case even if you have lived with a partner for years. However, they may be able to apply to a court for financial support from your estate if they are dependent on you. Other relatives and friends may also do this.
  • If you don’t have a husband, wife, civil partner or children, your estate may go to your parents, siblings or even more distant relatives. It depends on which part of the UK you live in.
  • If you don’t have any relatives, everything will go to the state.

It is important to note that if any child has died, but left their own children, those grandchildren can claim the share that their parent could have claimed if they were still alive.

To find out exactly what the law says about inheritance without a will where you live, use the online tool at GOV.UK.

I had not given wills a second thought until my husband became ill. I am glad we have made a will now. It is one less thing to worry about.


In Scotland

The rules in Scotland are different. Regardless of what your will says, your husband, wife, civil partner or children have the right to claim a share of your ‘moveable estate’ when you die. This is all your estate apart from property or land. For example, it includes cash, shares and cars.

If you have a husband, wife or civil partner, they can claim:

  • half (50%) of your estate if you don’t have children
  • a third (33%) of your estate if you have children.

If you have children, they can claim:

  • a third (33%) of your estate (shared between them) if you left a husband, wife or civil partner
  • half (50%) of your estate (shared between them) if you did not leave a husband, wife or civil partner.

For more information about legal rights in Scotland, speak to a solicitor.

Guardianship of young children

An important benefit of writing a will is that you can say who you want to look after any young children if you were to die. This may apply to children under the age of 16 or 18, depending on which region of the UK you live in.

It is important to appoint a guardian in your will if:

  • you are the only living parent
  • you are separated from the other parent
  • you are living with your partner, but they are not the other parent of your children
  • you have children and stepchildren and would like the family to stay together
  • you have a child whose other parent lives outside the UK and relocating the child would be an issue.

If you die without a will

The other parent has automatic legal responsibility for the child if:

  • you are married to them
  • you are not married but they are named on the birth certificate.

In these cases, there is no need to appoint each other as guardian in your will.

If you are separated from the other parent, they will usually become responsible for the children, unless they can be proved to be unsuitable. Even if you chose a different guardian, the other parent can contest this in court. You should discuss this with a solicitor.

If both parents die without a will, the UK courts choose a guardian. This may not be the person you would have chosen. This may also be a lengthy process, especially if more than one person wants to become guardian. In the time between the parent’s death and the court’s decision, your children may be taken into foster care by your local council.

If you nominate guardians in your will, the court can take your wishes into account. It is not guaranteed that the court will select your nominated guardians, but it makes it much more likely that they will.

Writing a will

Making a will is not as expensive or difficult as you might think. But it is a legal document and must be prepared properly. So it’s best to use a solicitor. They will be able to help with the wording in the document. They will make sure your wishes are clear and that they are carried out exactly as you want.

To make a will you must be at least:

You may find our leaflet called Your step-by-step guide to making a will helpful.

Charity will-writing services

Some charities offer a free will-writing service. They hope you will use your will to leave them a gift, but you don’t have to. This gift is called a legacy. If you use a will-writing service, it’s always a good idea to speak to an independent solicitor.

There are different ways of finding charity will-writing services:

  • Contact a charity to find out if it offers a free will-writing service.
  • Contact a free or low-cost charity will-writing service such as Will Aid and Will Relief Scotland.
  • If you live in England or Wales and you are over 55, you can take part in Free Wills Month. This scheme runs twice a year, usually in March and October.

Macmillan’s discounted will-writing service

Macmillan has picked a choice of will-writing organisations you can trust and that can offer you a will at a reduced price. You don’t have to leave a gift to Macmillan to get a discount.

The organisations cover England, Scotland and Wales and offer a range of online, telephone and face-to-face services.

There are several other ways we can support you to make or update your will, including helping you leave us a gift if you want to. For more information:

Other ways of finding a solicitor

Different law societies in the UK have online databases where you can search for a local wills solicitor.

You can also visit your local Citizens Advice and ask for a list of local solicitors.

If you own property jointly

You may own property jointly with one or more people. What happens to the property after you die depends on how it is owned. There are two main types of joint ownership.

Joint tenants (property with a survivorship destination)

If you are a joint tenant, your share of the property will go automatically to the other owners when you die. In Scotland, this is known as a property with a survivorship destination.

  • Property can be owned between two or more owners.
  • Property is always owned in equal proportions between joint tenants, except in Scotland. In Scotland, the owners can each own a different proportion.
  • If you die, your share of the property will be shared equally between the other owners.
  • You cannot leave your share of a property to someone else in your will.
  • Joint tenancy is often used by couples who own their home.
  • Joint bank and savings accounts are always owned in this way. Transferring money to a joint account is a simple way to make sure your partner can easily access it if you die.

Tenants in common (property without a survivorship destination)

If you are a tenant in common, your share of the property will not automatically go to the other owner or owners. It will form part of your estate. In Scotland, this is known as a property without a survivorship destination.

  • Property can be owned between two or more owners.
  • Property does not have to be owned equally. The owners can each own a different proportion.
  • If you die, you can leave your share of the property to someone else in your will.
  • If you don’t have a will, your share will be passed on according to the law.
  • Tenancy in common is typically used by relatives or friends who buy a property together.

Younger people

If someone dies before they are 18 (or 12 in Scotland), the law decides how their estate is passed on. If they were married, their husband, wife or civil partner will normally inherit their estate. Otherwise, their parents or guardians will normally inherit everything.

Their estate might include money that has been invested for them in a Child Trust Fund or Junior ISA. It’s not usually possible to withdraw money from these accounts before a child is 18 years old.

However, if a child is terminally ill, it may be possible to cash in a Child Trust Fund or Junior ISA early. You can do this online. If a child dies, the money from these accounts is passed on to whoever inherits their estate.

Funeral instructions

Arranging a funeral can be stressful for family or close friends if they don’t know what type of funeral you would like. If you tell your family and friends what you want, your funeral is much more likely to reflect your wishes. It may also be one less thing for your family or friends to worry about.

Choosing a funeral director

You may find choosing a funeral director difficult if there are several in the area where you live. If you’ve had to plan a funeral in the past, you might choose a director you’ve used before. If you haven’t, it’s best to choose one that you know has a high standard of practice. Those that are members of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) are regularly monitored to make sure their practice standards are high. You can contact the NAFD to find out if a funeral director is a member.

Pre-payment plans

Funerals can be expensive. You may want to pay for your funeral in advance by taking out a funeral pre-payment plan. You can find out more from your local funeral director or the NAFD. It’s best to look into prices first. Make sure that you know what services are included in the price as these can vary.

  • A funeral plan lets you arrange and pay for your own or someone else’s funeral in advance.
  • You pay either a lump sum or instalments to the plan provider or a funeral director.
  • There are rules to protect your money until it’s needed.

Before you buy a funeral plan, you should check what the total cost will be. You should also check what will be included in the plan, to make sure you’re happy with it. For more information, visit the Money Advice Service or call our free support line on 0808 808 00 00.

Talking about a funeral may be distressing. But writing down what a person wants may put them at ease, as they know their wishes will be carried out.


What does sorting out your estate involve?

If you make a will, your executors have the job of sorting out your estate. If there’s no will, usually your next of kin does this. This could be your partner or grown-up children, for example.

Sorting out an estate involves:

  • getting probate (or confirmation in Scotland) in order to share your estate out
  • getting letters of administration, if there is no will
  • tracing everything you owned at the time of your death and all your debts
  • reporting anything you owe or any debts to HMRC and paying any tax that’s due
  • paying any unpaid bills and other debts
  • identifying beneficiaries – these are the people who should inherit anything from you
  • possibly arranging the sale of assets such as property and other belongings.

Your executors can either do these things themselves or hire a solicitor to help.

It can be helpful to keep all your financial documents in one safe place and tell someone where this is. This can make it easier for your executors to find all the information they need after you have died.

Getting probate or confirmation

Your estate can’t be given to your beneficiaries until a certificate has been granted.

  • This certificate shows the amount you owned and owed when you died.
  • It is called probate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, it is called confirmation.
  • Your executors’ names will be on the certificate. The certificate allows them to sell or transfer your estate, so that it can be distributed according to your will. If you don’t have a will, your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.

If the estate is straightforward, getting probate or confirmation may only take a few weeks. But in more complicated cases it can take many months, or even years.

When probate or confirmation isn’t needed

Some money and belongings can go straight to your beneficiaries without waiting for probate or confirmation. This might happen if:

  • the estate is made up of cash and personal belongings only (and the cash is below a certain limit)
  • money or property are held jointly.

The following are usually not included in your estate:

  • Any payout from life insurance when you have said you want this to go to certain people.
  • A lump sum or income from a pension scheme where you have chosen who should receive it.

As long as you have completed a nomination form, these will go straight to your beneficiaries after your death. This is even if probate or confirmation is needed for your estate.

For help on sorting out an estate and paying tax, call the Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0300 123 1072 or visit:

  • GOV.UK (in England, Scotland and Wales)
  • nidirect (in Northern Ireland).

I got a probate for my husband who had left a will. It was a relatively simple process.


Back to Planning your finances

Assessing your finances

Cancer can lead to extra expenses. By assessing your situation, you can plan ahead to meet your needs.

Planning your budget

Reviewing your savings, investments and income will help you plan your budget.