During the Covid-19 pandemic, an increasing number of people have been searching online for instructions on how to write their own Will.
With the ban on face-to-face meetings and the closure of many legal firms’ offices over the past year, you may have been tempted to have a go at writing a Will yourself.
More people than ever have told us they’ve made a start with an online Will but found it far more difficult than they hoped it would be. They’re often worried they’ve made a mistake that might cause a dispute or a delay. Several new clients have started the process and found that what they thought was a low-cost solution, turns out to be far more expensive, with add-ons for printing, checking and storing – not included in the headline price.
What are the pitfalls with a DIY Will?
Everyone’s personal situation is distinct, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ option when it comes to writing a Will. Every family is different. Your own wishes are unique!
As an example, Ms. W (of Stoke on Trent) told us she had begun writing her Will online and found she had been diverted to a more expensive Will package when she ticked the box: “Do you wish to exclude a family member?”
Legal terminology and estate planning language may not be familiar to you. Prospective clients, Mr and Mrs H., called to ask: “What is an IPDI, and is it the same as a life interest or a protective property trust – and do we need one?”
Using a stationery form to write your Will may seem like an inexpensive option, but we regularly see handwritten Wills that contain minor (and major) errors that mean they are not valid. Literally not worth the paper they’re written on. This could be a simple mistake, such as using legal words incorrectly. We recently reviewed a handwritten Will that used the legal term issue, when the Will maker meant children, and the result was very different from what was intended. (Issue means all the future generations of your family.)
Did you know that if you write: I give my gold Rolex watch to my son Peter, and a few years later you sell that Rolex and buy a new one, your son does not inherit the new one. To qualify as a valid gift you would need to write: I give the gold Rolex watch I own at my death to my son Peter.
Have you heard the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know”?
If your Will is not correctly drafted, would you know? Legal professionals (should) have sufficient indemnity insurance that means your beneficiaries will be compensated if there is a mistake in your Will that needs to be rectified.
Many online Will providers’ terms and conditions state that they are not responsible for any errors caused by you ticking the wrong box, and some disclaim any responsibility as they have not met you or assessed your capacity to make a Will.
If your Will is poorly drafted or ambiguous, it could cause arguments between your family members. Legal action takes time, causes hassle and cost to your estate, and the people you meant to benefit may lose out.
The number of disputed probate cases over recent years is increasing, often as a result of Wills that have not been correctly drafted. Our trusted colleagues at IDR Law tell us that between 5-10% of all Wills are challenged.
Why use a legal professional to draft your Will?
A legal professional will consider your personal circumstances AND your financial and tax position to avoid your estate paying more than necessary. They’ll also advise how to provide for children after your death, including naming a guardian, putting protective trusts in place for tax reasons or for your children or a vulnerable family member.
A Will should use clear and unambiguous language. All the beneficiaries must be correctly identified and included. A will writing professional will also ensure that your documents are signed and witnessed in the correct legal way to ensure they are valid.
One of the most important reasons to take advice is so your chosen firm’s legal advisers would also be able to confirm your intentions and your capacity, if these were ever questioned. Taking time to understand your wishes, ensuring you understand what you are signing is essential. If the validity of your Will is questioned, they can provide evidence of ‘due execution’ and the circumstances prior and during the signing of your Will.
A clear, well-drafted, professionally written Will is less likely to be the subject of a court case against it. A homemade Will can be easier to challenge as those who have been left out may feel that they have more of a chance of successfully doing so.
The cost of making a Will is a tiny fraction of the expense and disruption of a legal dispute. To give yourself peace of mind and reassurance for your loved ones, we recommend having your Will drawn up by a legal specialist. Ask for a referral from friends or family you trust. Look for a firm that is a member of a recognised regulatory body such as the Institute of Professional Willwriters or the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, and can demonstrate competence, credibility and appropriate insurance.