Characteristics of a valid Will

Posted on 1st August 2023 by Streets -  Inheritance Tax

Image to represent Characteristics of a valid Will

It is important to make a Will to ensure that your estate is divided amongst your beneficiaries in accordance with your wishes. If you do not leave a Will the law decides who inherits the estate. This can result in a distribution of assets that would not have been in line with your wishes and can be especially problematic for cohabitees (a couple who live together but are not married and have not entered into a civil partnership).

HMRC’s internal manual lists the following characteristics of a valid Will:

  • must be in prescribed form that satisfies all the formalities;
  • operates only as declaration of intention and does not prevent a testator or testatrix from disposing during their lifetime of assets which may have been allocated to someone in the will;
  • takes effect only on death and until that time the beneficiaries have no interest in the assets;
  • may not only deal with dispositions of assets, for example, it may appoint a guardian of minors or give directions on burial or cremation arrangements;
  • can be revoked or altered at any time before the testator/testatrix dies; and
  • is ambulatory, that is to say it is capable of dealing with property acquired after it was made (provided the property is still owned by the testator at death).

It should be noted that even when a valid Will is in place, arguments between family members, beneficiaries or personal representatives can arise. Any disagreements must be sorted out before the affairs of the person who died can be settled. This can sometimes be so contentious that it has been left to the Courts to decide if a Will made by a deceased person was valid or invalid.

A Will can also be changed after death. This can be done by what is known as a Deed of Variation for up to two years from the date of death and is most often contemplated to reduce Inheritance Tax liability. A Deed of Variation can only be executed with the agreement of all the beneficiaries. It is more complicated if children are involved as they cannot themselves consent to changes.

No Advice

The content produced and presented by Streets is for general guidance and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal, tax, investment, financial or other advice. Furthermore, it should not be considered a recommendation or an offer to sell, or a solicitation of any offer to buy any securities or other form of financial asset. The information provided by Streets is of a general nature and is not specific for any individual or entity. Appropriate and tailored advice or independent research should be obtained before making any such decisions. Streets does not accept any liability for any loss or damage which is incurred from you acting or not acting as a result of obtaining Streets' visual or audible content.


The content used by Streets has been obtained from or is based on sources that we believe to be accurate and reliable. Although reasonable care has been taken in gathering the necessary information, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information we publish and we accept no liability for any errors or omissions in material. You should always seek specific advice prior to making any investment, legal or tax decisions.

Expert insight and news straight
to your inbox

Related Articles

IHT gifts – 7 year limit

Most gifts made during a person’s life are not subject to tax at the time of the gift. These lifetime transfers are known as 'potentially exempt transfers' or 'PETs'. These gifts or transfers achieve their potential of becoming exempt if the taxpayer survives for more than 7-years after making ...

Inheritance Tax

We wanted to remind you of the Inheritance Tax (IHT) implications of making cash gifts during the current 2023-24 tax year that will end on 5 April 2024. You can give away up to £3,000 worth of gifts each tax year.

IHT – Giving away your home before you die

The majority of gifts made during a person's life, including gifting a home, are not subject to tax at the time of the gift. These lifetime transfers are known as 'potentially exempt transfers' or 'PETs'.

You might also be interested in...