How To Make A Will In Northern Ireland
Welcome to Lightlaw’s guide on how to make a Will in Northern Ireland.
If you want to make sure that your loved ones are provided for (and you don’t want to leave a mess for them to clear up), this guide can help.
1. What exactly is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that sets out how you want your affairs to be managed after you die.
You can use your Will to communicate your wishes about almost anything, such as:
- saying who should inherit your property
- specifying who should look after your children (if you have any)
- describing the kind of funeral arrangements you would like, and so on.
Not only can your Will make sure that your wishes are carried out after you die, it can also create financial and tax benefits too, which we will look at in greater depth below.
2. Why do so few of us have one?
Over half (54%) of the UK’s adult population don’t have a Will.
Northern Ireland is worse than the national average; in 2018, a study by the Will Aid found that nearly 80% of the adults in Northern Ireland don’t have one.
It’s not that surprising really. Planning for what happens when you die isn’t exactly pleasant, so it’s only natural that we tend to avoid thinking about it too much.
While understandable, there is a problem with this mindset.
If you die without making a Will, you can leave a real mess behind you. And it is your family and loved ones that will have to pay the price of clearing it up (while grieving at the same time).
Not putting arrangements in place can leave your loved ones in uncertain financial positions, leave them with needlessly large inheritance tax bills, people fighting over who gets what, etc.
Making a Will doesn’t need to be complicated, take up a lot of time, or be expensive (in fact there are even ways of making a Will for free).
When you set it against the amount of money and hassle you can save in the long term, making a Will is a no-brainer for most people.
Plus if you commit a few hours to getting it done, you can relax and take comfort in the fact that, when you do pass away, everything will be sorted.
3. Can everyone make a Will?
Anyone can make a Will, providing that they are:
- at least 18 years old, and
- “of sound mind” – i.e. mentally capable of understanding what they are signing and what it means for them.
Sometimes younger people think they don’t need a Will, often because they feel like they don’t have any assets.
This can be a mistake – while they might not own a house or a business, they could have some savings stashed away, or could have accrued other assets, like pension entitlements or equity in a company share scheme, etc. Just because you feel like you don’t have any assets, don’t think that you won’t necessarily benefit from having a Will.
4. The main benefits of making a Will
There are lots of reasons why you should make a Will.
But two of the most important are:
- Making sure that the people you want to benefit from your estate actually do so:
If you die without a Will (i.e. “intestate”), your assets will be distributed according to the “rules of intestacy“. These rules are arbitrary and can frequently result in people who should have benefited, losing out completely (e.g. unmarried partners, etc.)
- Saving money on inheritance tax bills:
Inheritance tax can result in huge financial liabilities being created for your loved ones after you die. However you can minimise these liabilities by using your Will to distribute your property in a tax efficient way.
5. What should I put in my Will?
To start with, you should make a list of all your possessions, financial assets, and liabilities, including those you share with someone else.
Then, make a list of names and addresses of all family members, friends, acquaintances and organisations that you would like to leave something to after you die.
Next, you should think about the following factors that often appear in Wills:
- what kind of funeral you would like
- who you would like to appoint as executor(s) of your Will
- who you would like to look after your children/dependants if you die
- who would you like to give cash gifts to and how much (either £ amount of % of your estate)
- who you would like to give physical possessions to (legacies) – e.g. pictures, cars, furniture, books, or other property
- what residual gifts you would like to leave and to whom (a residual gift is something that is left over in your estate after all of the other gifts/liabilities have been given settled)
- any charities/organisations that you would like to leave a gift to
- who you would like to look after any pets you have
Once you have the above information gathered together, you should be in a position to start drafting your will (or contacting a probate solicitor and asking them to do it for you).
If you plan to write will yourself (i.e. a “DIY Will”), you should take some time to familiarise yourself with the legal requirements for making a Will in Northern Ireland.
6. What happens if I die without a Will?
If you die without a Will, your property will be distributed according to the “rules of intestacy“.
Set out in the Administration of Estates (NI) Act 1955 and the Administration of Estates (NI) Order 1979, the rules of intestacy are a set of legal rules designed to govern how somebody’s assets should be distributed if they die without making a Will.
The problem with the rules of intestacy is that they don’t allow for a wide range of circumstances.
So if your situation doesn’t sit nicely within these rules, the chances of your assets being allocated to someone that you didn’t want to benefit (often at the expense of someone who should), is very high.
(The most obvious example is an unmarried partner – they are entitled to nothing under the rules of intestacy.)
It should come as no surprise then that the chances of a dispute occurring after your death are significant, if you don’t have a Will.
In almost all cases, it is preferable to have one, rather than taking a gamble by relying on the intestacy rules.
7. Can I make a Will without a solicitor?
The answer is yes, you absolutely can write your own Will without using a solicitor.
But you must make sure that your Will is drafted correctly.
If it is not correctly drafted, you run the risk of it being invalid, meaning your exact wishes may not be carried out after you die.
If you don’t have many assets, and you just want a simple Will to leave property either to your spouse/children, you could consider writing that Will yourself.
On the other hand, if you have a wider range of assets, perhaps shares in a business or multiple businesses, various properties, financial assets, etc., you really should get your Will written by a professional.
This will ensure that it’ll be valid, do what you want it to do, and be drafted in a tax-efficient way.
8. How much does a Will cost?
The cost of writing a will in Northern Ireland varies, depending on the complexity.
If you have a very simple Will, you can do it yourself – for free.
If you have a complex Will, with a lot of different assets and beneficiaries, and you want to incorporate inheritance tax planning, a Will written by a specialist solicitor could cost £1,000 or more.
If you fall somewhere in between – i.e. your circumstances are relatively simple but you still would rather not take the risk of writing the Will yourself, you could consider a will-writing service, or a will template service.
These can range in price between roughly £75 – £150.
Like everything, you get what you pay for. If you pay for a specialist probate solicitor, you will have the comfort of knowing that your Will should be drafted correctly, taking account of your specific circumstances.
Most solicitors are happy to store your Will safely for you too (which is another cost you need to factor in, if you are using a will-writing service).
And because solicitors are highly regulated, if anything goes wrong, you should be able to get recourse.
Although templates and will-writing services might be cheaper, many don’t come with the same level of protection.
We tend to recommend that if you can afford it all, having your Will drafted by a solicitor is the best course of action.
It might be a bit more expensive up-front, but it is likely to save you money in the long run.
9. Can I get my Will written for free?
Yes, sometimes you can get a Will professionally written for free*.
There’s a caveat on the “free” part though, because there can be some strings attached.
For example, charities sometimes run promotions where you can get a Will written “for free”, but you need to make a donation.
It’s not strictly free, but it is a nice way of helping out a charity while getting your affairs in order at the same time.
You can also look at charities like Will Aid, which runs for free in November.
And you can find more information at Free Wills Month.
Local solicitors often advertise will-writing promotions around November-time too, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those.
Finally, you may also find that banks operate will-writing services.
But as with everything to do with banks, you should always check the small print to find out what exactly you are signing up to – banks sometimes provide cheap will-writing services up-front, but then tie you (or your beneficiaries) into bigger payments further down the line.
10. When should I update my Will?
As the years go by, your circumstances change.
And that Will you wrote 20 years ago could now be badly out of date.
It’s a good idea to periodically review your Will and update it to reflect your current situation.
Reviewing your Will every 5 years is a good benchmark.
Also, if anything in your life has changed dramatically, it’s worth thinking if your Will reflects your up-to-date position.
You should certainly review your Will after events like:
- a marriage
- a divorce
- having children
- making large purchases/changes in ownership (e.g. property or a business)
- any large changes in your finances (e.g. a large unexpected windfall, bankruptcy, etc).
11. Who should I appoint as Executor?
Distributing someone’s assets, in line with their wishes as set out in their Will, can be a lot of work.
The person who undertakes this work is the Executor.
Say, for example, you leave an investment property to a nephew. It will be the Executor’s job to ensure that the property is actually transferred properly into your nephew’s ownership (dealing with solicitors, payment of fees, etc.).
Your Executor is also responsible for making sure that any debts you owe are settled before your assets are distributed.
Being an Executor is an important (and sometimes difficult) job.
So you should pick your Executors carefully – they should be organised, trustworthy and good communicators.
An Executor can be a beneficiary too, and there is no limit to the number you can appoint.
You can also appoint a professional to act as an Executor, such as an accountant or a solicitor.
Professional Executors can charge fees, but otherwise an Executor is only entitled to their out-of-pocket expenses.
12. Who should I ask to witness my Will?
You need two or more witnesses who should observe you signing your Will.
In general, a witness should:
- be an adult (above the age of 18)
- be capable of competently witnessing the Will (i.e. mentally sound, not blind, etc.)
- not be a beneficiary (if you leave a gift to the person who witnesses your will, that gift will be invalid)
- be independent – i.e. not related to you or your beneficiaries by blood, marriage, or civil partnership
Good examples of witnesses could be a neighbour, a friend, a work colleague, a lawyer or a GP.
13. Where should I store my Will?
After you pass away, your family will have to make enquiries about where your Will is kept, so they can understand what your wishes were.
The quicker your Will can be located, the quicker people can start to enact your wishes, especially regarding funeral arrangements, etc.
After you have made your Will, you should let your Executor(s) know where it is going to be kept.
This means they won’t have to waste time trying to locate it.
Here are some storage options:
- Storage with your Solicitor
If you ask a solicitor to draft your Will for you, they can usually store it safely and securely for you, in a fire-proof deeds cabinet.
Best practice tends to be having your solicitor store the original Will, and then you can keep a copy at your house.
- The Probate Office
You can also deposit your Will with the Probate Office in Belfast. The contact details are:
The Probate Office, The Royal Courts of Justice, Chichester Street, Belfast, BT1 3JF
Email: [email protected]
- Will Writing / Will Storage Service
If you used a will-writing service, they may have a storage option that you can use to store your Will. Just be aware that these services are less-regulated than solicitors, and problems could arise if they become insolvent or shut down.
As with other services that simply store your Will, make sure to check what their fees are in advance. If they charge a yearly fee, over time that can add up to a significant amount.
Most of the time, if you have a solicitor make your Will for you, they tend to store it for you free of charge. So while a will-writing service might be cheaper up front, when you take into account the storage fees over time, they can actually be more expensive than a specialist probate solicitor.
14. What is the law on Wills in Northern Ireland?
If you would like to do some more research on the rules on making wills in Northern Ireland, you can find the main legislation on wills here:
To finish off…
Thanks for checking out our quick guide to making a Will in Northern Ireland.
Thinking about what happens after we pass away is not the most uplifting topic, but it’s something each and every one of us will have to contend with.
We hope this guide prompted you to consider if you have planned as best you can for your loved ones after your passing. If you haven’t made a will yet, we strongly suggest you do so.
If you have any questions, you are welcome to get in touch.
All the best!
The Lightlaw Team
Every effort is made to keep this guide to making a will in Northern Ireland up to date. Although it is not to be regarded as legal advice, and cannot replace direct consultation with a solicitor, we strive to make sure this information is helpful, accurate and practical. If you are a Northern Ireland probate solicitor and have spotted an inaccuracy, you can submit a suggested change.