What You Should Never Put in Your Will in the UK?

Frustrated woman in front of a laptop
Catrin, UK Solicitor
16/02/2024 ● 3 minutes
Draft­ing a leg­ally sound Will that clearly out­lines your wishes is one of the most im­port­ant steps you can take to pre­pare for the future. While a Will gives you the power to dis­tribute your assets and care for loved ones as you see fit, there are cer­tain things that you should not put in your Will for legal or prac­tical reas­ons.

In fact, know­ing what NOT to put in your Will is just as cru­cial as know­ing what to in­clude. By being aware of prob­lem­at­ic pro­vi­sions, you can create an ef­fect­ive Will that with­stands legal scru­tiny and smoothly achieves your in­ten­tions.

Some things simply are not ap­pro­pri­ate for in­clu­sion in a UK Will, or they may have un­in­tended con­sequences.

Read on to dis­cov­er all the things that you should NEVER put in your Will!

1. Never Put in Will Con­di­tion­al Gifts

The first thing on the list of pro­vi­sions you should NEVER put in your Will is con­di­tion­al gifts. This is where you make a gift de­pendant on a be­ne­fi­ciary ful­filling some re­quire­ment you impose after your death in order to re­ceive their in­her­it­ance.

Ex­ample: Con­di­tion­al Gifts

You may state that your nephew only re­ceives his share if he gradu­ates from uni­versity or mar­ries before a cer­tain age. The prob­lem is that once you pass away, there is no way to en­force these types of con­di­tions. Leg­ally, con­di­tion­al gifts may be deemed void or oth­er­wise fail.

In­stead, it is better to make an un­con­di­tion­al gift or use a living trust if you wish to attach strings for in­centiv­ising be­ha­vi­ours while you are still alive and able to over­see it.

2. For­give­ness of Debts is Prob­lem­at­ic to In­clude in a Will

An­oth­er prob­lem­at­ic in­clu­sion in a Will is at­tempt­ing to for­give debts leg­ally owed to you through a state­ment in your Will.

Any le­git­im­ate out­stand­ing loans, set­tle­ment agree­ments, or court judg­ments in your favour cannot simply be washed away after you die by de­clar­ing them for­giv­en in your Will.

Your estate is en­titled to col­lect any valid debts owed. So trying to cancel these debts will not be bind­ing.

There­fore for­give­ness of debts is something you should NEVER put in your Will.

Read more: How Much Does It Cost to Make a Will?

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3. Don't In­clude In­ap­pro­pri­ate Prop­erty

Only prop­erty that you fully own in your own name can be dis­trib­uted through your Will. Do not at­tem­pt to gift prop­erty that is not ac­tu­ally part of your estate. This could lead to dis­putes or con­fu­sion for your ex­ecut­or. Be­lieve it or not, this mis­take is more common than you think!

For Ex­ample

Listing gifts for your spouse or chil­dren that in­volve assets owned by a business you have stake in could create prob­lems. Share prop­erty owned jointly with others cannot pass via your will alone either. Keep­ing the Will fo­cused strictly on assets com­pletely your own avoids any un­ne­ces­sary issues.

Read more about Joint will

4. Ap­point­ment of Ex­ecut­or Not Agreed upon

An­oth­er detail you should never put in Your Will is naming someone as an ex­ecut­or without con­firm­ing with them first that they agree to take on this re­spons­ib­il­ity. Set­tling an estate can in­volve sig­ni­fic­ant time, work and deal­ings with vari­ous agen­cies, which not every­one will have the time, desire, or abil­ity to do.

Being ap­poin­ted without con­sent could upset plans and lead to the person re­fus­ing the ex­ecut­or­ship. This com­plic­ates mat­ters greatly. Always gain an ex­ecut­or's per­mis­sion and keep them ap­prised of your in­ten­tions so they are pre­pared to serve when the time comes.

Read more: Can an Ex­ecut­or of a Will be a Be­ne­fi­ciary?

5. Never Put in Will: Il­leg­al or Un­eth­ical Re­quests

It should go without saying that using a Will for un­eth­ical or il­leg­al pur­poses could render all or part of the will in­valid and open up legal li­ab­il­ity for your estate. For ex­ample:

  • Re­questing that your prop­erty be des­troyed upon death could run afoul of public policy and waste laws
  • Making gifts con­tin­gent on crim­in­al or an­ti­so­cial activ­it­ies would clearly be un­law­ful
  • Lan­guage that en­cour­ages harm or dis­crim­in­a­tion against others should of course be avoided al­to­geth­er.

Il­leg­al or un­eth­ical re­quests are there­fore something you should NEVER put in your Will. Stick to lawful dis­tri­bu­tion wishes to avoid your estate get­ting tied up fight­ing legal chal­lenges against in­ap­pro­pri­ate Will pro­vi­sions.

6. Don't In­clude in Your Will: Vague Be­ne­fi­ciary De­scrip­tions

Vague be­ne­fi­ciary de­scrip­tions are also something you should NEVER put in your Will. Failure to clearly identi­fy your in­tended be­ne­fi­ciar­ies cre­ates am­bi­gu­ity that can lead to dis­putes and head­aches for your ex­ecut­or trying to de­term­ine right­ful in­her­it­ance re­cip­i­ents.

Always use full legal names, con­tact de­tails, ad­dresses and identi­fy the nature of re­la­tion­ships. An un­clear ref­er­ence like "to my friend John" could apply to sev­er­al people caus­ing con­fu­sion unless ad­equately de­tailed. Remove any doubt through clear de­scrip­tions.

⚠️ By not in­clud­ing the above pro­vi­sions in your Will you can create a valid legal doc­u­ment that seam­lessly achieves your estate plan­ning goals. While a Will does afford you sig­ni­fic­ant con­trol, be mind­ful of the legal and prac­tical limits.

💡 With proper plan­ning, your thought­fully crafted Will can ensure your prop­erty is handled as in­tended, your final wishes are hon­oured, and your loved ones are provided for after you are gone.

Now that we’ve con­sidered what you should NEVER put in your Will, let’s turn to what you SHOULD put in it!

Check­list of What You Need to IN­CLUDE in Your Will:

✅ Per­son­al In­form­a­tion: In­clude your full legal name, ad­dress, and date of birth.

✅ Ex­ecut­or Ap­point­ment: Choose an ex­ecut­or (or ex­ecut­ors) to ad­min­is­ter your estate. Spe­cify a sub­sti­tute or re­place­ment ex­ecut­or in case the primary ex­ecut­or is unable or un­will­ing to act.

✅ Guard­i­an­ship for Minors: If you have chil­dren under 18, ap­point a guardi­an to care for them in case both par­ents pass away.

✅ Asset In­vent­ory: List all your assets, in­clud­ing prop­erty, bank ac­coun­ts, in­vest­ments, and per­son­al be­long­ings.

✅ Debts and Li­ab­il­it­ies: Spe­cify how your debts and li­ab­il­it­ies should be settled from your estate.

✅ Spe­cif­ic Gifts: Clearly out­line any spe­cif­ic gifts to in­di­vidu­als or char­it­ies.

✅ Re­sid­uary Estate Dis­tri­bu­tion: State how the re­mainder of your estate should be dis­trib­uted among be­ne­fi­ciar­ies.

✅ Fu­ner­al and Burial Wishes: Ex­press your pref­er­ences re­garding your fu­ner­al ar­range­ments and burial or crema­tion.

✅  Re­voc­a­tion Clause: In­clude a clause re­vok­ing any pre­vi­ous Wills and co­di­cils.

✅ Wit­nesses: Ensure the Will is signed in the pres­ence of two wit­nesses who are not be­ne­fi­ciar­ies.

✅ Sign­ing and Dating: Sign and date the Will in the pres­ence of wit­nesses.

💡 Re­mem­ber to safely store the ori­gin­al Will, and inform your ex­ecut­or or a trusted person of its loc­a­tion. Also, do note that this check­list provides a gen­er­al over­view, and it's cru­cial to tailor your Will to your spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances.

Check­list: What to NEVER Put in Your Will

❌ Con­di­tion­al gifts - Gifts in a Will should not be made con­di­tion­al on something hap­pen­ing after death, as there's no way to en­force it.

❌ For­give­ness of debts - Debts leg­ally owed to you can't be for­giv­en in a Will, your estate needs to col­lect this.

❌ Prop­erty out­side the estate - Only in­clude prop­erty leg­ally owned by you. The Will should focus solely on clearly spe­cify­ing dis­tri­bu­tion of assets ac­tu­ally owned by you upon death.

❌ Ap­point­ment of ex­ecut­or not agreed upon - Name ex­ecut­ors only after con­firm­ing they agree to taking on the role in order to avoid com­plic­a­tions later.

❌ Il­leg­al re­quests - Re­quests con­trary to public policy like des­troy­ing prop­erty or gifts for il­leg­al activ­it­ies.  In­clud­ing con­di­tions in your Will that en­cour­age or reward il­leg­al acts is not only un­en­force­able but also against the law.

Vague de­scrip­tions of be­ne­fi­ciar­ies - Use full legal names and de­tails to avoid con­fu­sion and dis­putes.

💡 Be cau­tious with free will tem­plates found on the in­ternet, as they often provide a basic out­line and might not fully ac­com­mod­ate your spe­cif­ic wishes.

A Valid Will Brings Peace of Mind

Writ­ing a Will can be a daunt­ing ex­per­i­ence. Being aware of what NEVER to in­clude in your Will is as cru­cial as un­der­stand­ing what should be in­cluded to ensure it com­plies with legal re­quire­ments and ef­fect­ively com­mu­nic­ates your in­ten­tions.

Reg­u­lar re­views and up­dates to your Will can help align it with changes in your cir­cum­stances or pref­er­ences, provid­ing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

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