It’s human nature to try to cut costs where you can. Perhaps you’ve attempted a DIY home repair to avoid paying a professional tradesperson or tinkered under the car bonnet instead of calling a mechanic.

Invariably, these are decisions you regret – paying an expert to rectify your bodged repair attempt is often more costly than if you’d called them in the first place.

Unfortunately, the same could be true if you decide to go it alone when writing your will.

According to research published by Royal London, expensive inheritance disputes have increased in recent years due to more people writing their wills without consulting a professional. In 2021, nearly 10,000 wills were disputed – 37% more than the number of challenges made in 2019.

So, if you haven’t written a will yet or yours is due to be updated, read on to discover five common mistakes and how you could avoid them.

1. Not signing or witnessing the will correctly

Your will may be invalid if it is not signed or witnessed correctly.

This could mean that your estate is distributed in line with a previous will (if you had one) or according to the intestacy rules, which apply when someone does not leave a will.

Either way, your wealth may not be passed on in accordance with your wishes at the time of your death.

To avoid this, take care to follow the rules for signing and witnessing a will*.

Your will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses. You can choose whoever you like to act as witnesses but they must be:

  • A UK citizen aged 18 or over
  • Of sound mind and acting voluntarily
  • Not named as beneficiaries in your will, or married to someone who is.

Additionally, both witnesses must be physically present when you sign the will, and they must have a clear view of you writing your signature.

Each witness must also sign the document in front of you, as well as providing their address and occupation. They do not need to sign your will at the same time as each other.

Seeking help from a solicitor or professional will writer could ensure that you comply with all relevant rules and that your will is valid.

*The requirements for signing Wills in Scotland are distinct from those above. Specifically, a Will in Scotland should be signed by the granter on every page and witnessed by one independent person on the last page.

2. Using unclear or confusing language

Your will should be written in a way that makes your wishes clear. This means avoiding vague or contradictory statements and providing sufficient detail about how you want your estate distributed without being too specific.

For example, referring to “my children” may be ambiguous if you have both biological and stepchildren.

On the other hand, being too specific could cause confusion. Imagine that you decide to pass on any car you own at the time of your death to your son. If you state that your “silver BMW” should be left to your son and you later replace this car with a black Mercedes, your wishes may become unclear.

Such ambiguities could leave your loved ones contending with unpleasant disputes, distress, and expensive legal proceedings.

A professional can ensure that your will states your wishes clearly and unambiguously. Updating your will periodically or if your circumstances change could also minimise the risk that your intention will be misinterpreted.

3. Having an out-of-date will

While writing a will is a crucial part of effective estate planning, regularly reviewing it may be just as important.

It’s unlikely that your personal circumstances and plans for the future will remain static throughout your life – you might get married, divorced, have children, and so on. Such life events could significantly alter your wishes regarding how your estate is passed on.

So, failing to keep your will up to date could result in your wealth being passed to people you would no longer choose as beneficiaries.

Equally, if one of your named beneficiaries passes away, you may want to make alternative arrangements for their share of your estate.

To avoid this mistake, review your will whenever your circumstances change, and, in any case, revisit it every few years as your wishes or the value of your assets could change.

4. Making changes to a will after it has been signed

While reviewing and updating your will is important, your will is a legal document and there is a strict process to follow if you wish to make amendments. Altering the document directly could invalidate it.

To avoid this, you can either:

  • Make an official alteration called a codicil
  • Write a new will.

A codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same way as your will.

There is no limit to the number of codicils you can add to your will, but if you wish to make significant amendments, you might choose to write a new will instead.

5. Failing to seek professional financial help before writing a will

While you can opt to write a will or a codicil independently, a solicitor can ensure that your wishes are clear and that your will is valid.

However, before you write a will, it’s important to review what assets you have and consider how their value may change over time. This could help you decide how you’d like your wealth to be distributed when you die.

A financial planner can provide invaluable advice and support on such matters. They can also help you create a comprehensive estate plan that aligns with your will and allows you to pass on your wealth in the most tax-efficient way.

Get in touch

If you’d like to know more about creating an estate plan that reflects your wishes and long-term goals, please email us at or call 0800 077 8807.

Please note

This article is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

Please do not act based on anything you might read in this article. All contents are based on our understanding of HMRC legislation, which is subject to change.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning or will writing.