It's important to make a will, and this month solicitors are offering to do it for no charge.
WRITING A will may not be top of your list of priorities but it is one of those essential things you should do. And now is the ideal time to do it as November is Will Aid month, when more than 2,000 firms of solicitors will be offering their services free to anyone wanting a simple will.

Normally this would cost you a minimum of pounds 50. But instead of charging this fee, solicitors taking part in the scheme will suggest you make a donation to Will Aid, which supports a range of charities. The suggested donation is pounds 40, or pounds 60 for a couple making mirror wills.

It is easy to put off making a will. But if you die without one, there is no guarantee that the people you want to leave your money or possessions to will get them. A common misconception, for example, is that your spouse will automatically inherit your estate if you die without leaving a will. But in fact, your spouse would only be entitled to the first pounds 125,000 of your estate, plus half the remainder, with the other half being split between your children or family.

Unmarried couples can have even more problems, warns Charles Gordon, partner at Farnborough-based solicitors Foster Savage & Gordon. "It is important that unmarried couples living together make wills; otherwise if one dies the family gets all the assets and not their partner," he says.

So if you live with your partner in their home and they die without having made provision for you in their will, you could find yourself homeless as well as bereaved.

If you divorce your spouse, this will not automatically cancel any existing will leaving everything to them. And if you are separated but not divorced and have not made a new will, your spouse will still have a legal claim to inherit.

When it comes to drawing up a will, most people should see a solicitor, says Abigail Bennett, spokeswoman for the charity Age Concern. "It's a very complicated area. If you do draw up your own will, you have to be very careful. Even if you are planning a simple will we think it's best to go to a solicitor," she says.

As well as drawing up your will, a solicitor can point out any possible areas of conflict and if necessary offer advice on inheritance-tax planning.

Most people are best off seeking professional help, says Charles Gordon: "If your will is properly organised you won't need to go back every year."

If you do decide to draw up your own will, there are a number of common pitfalls you should avoid, advises Mr Gordon. Ensure your will is properly signed, witnessed and dated. If you are leaving your whole estate to one person, ensure you cover the possibility of them dying before you. Cover your whole estate - often people dispose of their home and life assurance, but forget their car and the house contents. And remember to appoint an executor to carry out the terms of your will.

For solicitors in your area taking part in the Will Aid campaign, call 0870 6060239. Age Concern offers a free guide, `Making Your Will' - call 0800 009966

Weird Wills

ADULTS WHO died in England and Wales in 1995: 559,237. Adults who leave estates of more than pounds 5,000, with no will: 50,104. Eighty per cent with estates of less than pounds 5,000 leave no will. More women are victims of intestacy than are divorced.

The shortest contested will: Frederick Charles William Thorn wrote "All for Mother" on an envelope. This was contested as meaning "Wife". The challenge was upheld.

The longest will: Frederica Evelyn Sitwell Cook, 95,940 words, in 1925.

Source: NCH Action for Children