Wills: Don't Try This At Home!

Writing a Will is something many people avoid doing until it’s absolutely necessary. Often, simply the thought of having to consider one’s own mortality is enough to put people off. However, a Will is one of the most significant and important financial documents we can make in life: it’s the difference between your wishes being carried out after you pass away and a court dividing your assets according to the laws of intestacy. These laws specify how a deceased person’s estate should be distributed if they have not left a valid Will and the distribution will depend on which family members survive the deceased.     

The more financial assets we accrue in life, the more crucial it becomes to have a valid Will in place. The operative word being “valid.”  With the technological revolution of the Internet, it’s now possible to bypass professional help across a range of areas: learning an instrument, crafting, coding and now even Will writing. After a quick browse online you will be presented with templates and guides on DIY Wills. However, while rectifying a mistake in learning an instrument is a simple case of “keep playing”, an error in your Will could cause a significant loss to your chosen beneficiaries.

In 2015, after spending two long years dealing with the estate of her cousin George, Eileen McCormack discovered the document he had been carrying around was in fact invalid.

“There were hand-written amendments in different-coloured inks, plus the Will wasn’t witnessed at the time it was drafted – nor when any of the changes were made,” says Eileen. “He constantly amended it and moved figures around, altering what people were due to inherit.”

George had chosen to avoid solicitors, opting for the DIY approach to save on costs. Due to the invalidity of the Will, 16% of George’s estate was used to pay legal fees – a sum which could have been avoided had he sought the help of a professional when drafting and updating his Will.

What makes a Will valid?
In order for your Will to be valid, you must:

  • Be aged 18 or over.
  • Have it in writing.
  • Have made your Will without the influence or pressure of anyone else.
  • Have written it in a sound mental state and be aware of the nature of the document.
  • Sign the Will in the presence of two witnesses (these two witnesses must not be beneficiaries mentioned in the Will.)
  • Have the two witnesses sign the Will in your presence.

If you are not able to sign the Will, you can appoint someone to sign the Will on your behalf. In this instance, the Will must include a clause that states that you understood the contents of the Will before it was signed.

The Problem with DIY Wills
DIY Wills can be a way to save money in the short term. A trip down to your local office supplies shop or a search on Google will find you a DIY kit for writing your Will advertised as being “easy and straightforward” for a cheap price. However, for such a significant document, is this really the place to be scrimping and saving?

While the low price can be tempting, any errors made in your Will can have a critical impact on how your estate is divided. Common errors include:

  • Not dating the Will
  • Failing to have two witnesses sign the Will
  • Not making provisions for Inheritance Tax on gifts
  • Appointing too many executors or not naming any at all
  • Failing to sufficiently identify beneficiaries
  • Failing to dispose of the entire estate

Mistakes are easily made if you aren’t familiar with the process or the essential requirements of a valid Will. If you are unsure of what to include, a solicitor can discuss with you your unique situation and advise you on how to proceed.

Furthermore, an invalid Will can often be worse than having no Will at all. Invalid Wills are often the cause of Will disputes between beneficiaries, close relatives and friends of the deceased. Contentious probate is a complex area of law, and often costs a lot of time as well as money when solicitors and executors attempt to resolve the affairs of a person with an invalid Will. This is even highlighted in Charles Dickens’ famous novel ‘Bleak House’, in which a Will dispute ultimately results in the majority of the estate being used to cover legal fees.

What happens if my Will is not valid?
If your Will is invalid, it could result in your estate being divided according to the laws of intestacy. The laws of intestacy state that if you die with no valid Will, the first £250,000 of your estate as well as all of your personal possessions will automatically go to your spouse. Your spouse will also receive an absolute interest in half of the remainder of the estate with the other half divided equally amongst any surviving children or grandchildren. Where there is no spouse, your estate passes to your closest living relatives starting with your children.

Why use a professional Wills solicitor?
Using a solicitor is not only useful in ensuring that your Will is valid, but also to provide tailored advice to ensure your Will is appropriate for your circumstances and fully gives effect to your wishes. Your dedicated solicitor should be as thorough as possible in making sure that no stone is left unturned and your exact wishes are stated clearly and legally within the Will.

 

At Preston Redman, our team of Wills and probate solicitors are fully qualified in the Will writing process; our vast experience allowing us to deliver guidance and assistance through the drafting of the Will to ensure your affairs are in order long before you pass. To make an appointment, call our specialist Wills solicitors on 01202292424 or email the team at jwe@prestonredman.co.uk