Five things you should not include in a will

Making a will is vitally important to ensure on death that your wishes take effect. Without a will your estate may not pass to those you want to inherit, and it may be subject to Inheritance Tax which could have otherwise been reduced or avoided altogether.

Most people are aware what should go into a will, but many are not aware of what not to include. Solicitor Catherine Hamilton, based at WHN Solicitors’ Haslingden office, specialises in wills and probate. She outlines below five things you should not include in a will:

1. Items you do not own

This might seem obvious, but that is not always the case. For example, jointly owned assets such as a joint bank account or a property owned as joint tenants pass automatically to the surviving co-owner irrespective of what a will may say.

Similarly, if you own a business with another person or persons you may not be able to pass on your interest to a different person without the agreement of the other business owners.

Assets that you do not own outright such as a leased car or goods bought on a hire purchase agreement are not usually able to be gifted and should not be mentioned in your will. In addition, pensions or life insurance policies which are nominated to pass automatically to a beneficiary should not be included in a will.

2. Funeral arrangements

While it is quite common and perfectly reasonable to state a wish to be buried or cremated in a will, these wishes are not legally binding. Furthermore, as sorting out funeral arrangements is one of the first things to happen after death, your funeral could be arranged before anyone has looked at the will.

For both these reasons it is always better to discuss any particular requests you may have regarding your funeral with those family members who are likely to be making the arrangements. The other advantage is that if you change your wishes for your funeral, you don’t need to change your will or risk your family following what the will states.

3. Conditions

Generally speaking, it is not advisable (though not illegal) to try to apply conditions to gifts in your will. While it might be reasonable to state an age for a grandchild to inherit, or making a gift to the spouse of your child on the condition they remain married, making a gift conditional on someone not marrying a particular individual would almost certainly not be reasonable. Putting conditions on gifts risks disputes arising after your death which can be costly and delay the estate being finalised.

4. Gifts to pets

It is not possible to leave a gift to a pet in your will as animals cannot own property. However, you can state your wishes as to who is to care for a pet after your death (you should always speak to them first to make sure they are willing) and you may wish to set aside a sum of money to assist that person in caring for the pet.

5. Comments or explanations

On death, particularly if your will goes to probate, it becomes a public document. This means anyone has access to read it. As a result, your will should state who inherits what – but not state who is not included or the reasons why.

If you have excluded people from your will who might have expected to be beneficiaries of your estate, this should be addressed in a separate document which can be produced after death if required, but otherwise remains confidential.

See also our blog post: How to avoid any challenges to your will

Safeguard for the future

The best way to ensure that your will is legal and in accordance with your wishes is to have it drawn up professionally. It is also important that you keep your will up to date.

WHN’s wills, probate and trusts team, working across all our offices, has a wealth of expertise in this area and can ensure you have done everything possible to safeguard for the future.

See also our blog post: Five reasons why you need to update your will

Catherine Hamilton advises WHN’s clients on issues related to wills, probate and powers of attorney. If you wish to prepare a will or update an existing will, contact Catherine on 01706 213356 or by emailing