The subject of making a Will is understandably emotive. It forces us to face up to the fact that we’re not going to be around forever. Nevertheless, we need to decide what will happen to our estate after we pass away.
For many people, the cost of making a will can seem prohibitive which often results in a DIY approach to Wills. In reality, off the shelf DIY Wills are rarely more cost-effective than using Wills solicitors. If your Will is deemed to be invalid, the cost to those you leave behind can be devastating. The following are some of the key issues to consider.
Are DIY Wills legal?
There is no definitive answer to this. If you have up to date legal knowledge and get everything right, your Will may stand up to legal scrutiny. But for someone who is not legally qualified, this is quite a chance to take. Writing a Will yourself is by no means easy and carries with it some inherent risk. One minor error can potentially invalidate the entire Will.
Surely it’s better than dying intestate?
The intestacy rules were changed in October 2014 with the intention of modernising and simplifying the rules. If you die intestate, you have no say whatsoever as to what happens to your estate. The rules are very specific as to what must happen and, in the absence of there being a will, there is no automatic entitlement for unmarried partners, step-children or charity.
An invalid DIY Will may provoke legal challenges to your estate potentially resulting in significant legal fees that can run into tens of thousands of pounds if not more. Even after all that money has been spent there is no guarantee that your actual wishes are going to be followed.
Losing a loved one is one of the most traumatic events that any of us are likely to experience. Grief can do strange things to people. And so can money. Even ignoring the consequential legal costs associated with writing a Will that is not valid, the division of an estate can become a source of conflict in even the closest of families. This comes at a time when they need each other most, adding to the stress of bereavement. Using professional Wills specialists, in contrast, will ensure that your Will is valid and that your wishes are clear.
When you bequeath something to someone in your Will, you would reasonably anticipate that they will benefit from it in a timely fashion. It may be a source of income upon which they are relying in your absence. A perfect example would be the death of the parent of a university student. That student may be relying upon you for income during your lifetime, in order to pursue their studies. When you pass away, you will clearly wish to ensure that they are not forced to abandon their studies in the absence of a source of income. Making a Will is clearly the solution. However, a contested DIY Will could, at best, result in a protracted period prior to the distribution of the estate. This may leave your loved ones without a source of income in the meantime.
It is common to leave specific gifts in a will, perhaps including sums of money for friends, associates or charities of which you are a patron. You might, for example, specify that X is to receive £5000. The problem here is that inflation may mean that the generous gift you specify at the point at which you make the will may not have the same value in real terms when you pass away. Perhaps more worryingly, the value of your estate may reduce in the intervening period. You may spend significantly more than you earn during your retirement and may end up paying for your own care when you are elderly. Those specific monetary gifts could end up consuming the entirety of your estate. Residual beneficiaries, very often the people to whom you intend to leave the majority of your estate, could end up with considerably less in these circumstances.
Wills must be witnessed in a specified manner. Executors must be carefully chosen and the Will must be signed in the presence of your witnesses. Beneficiaries may not be witnesses and your instructions must be unequivocal. It is all too easy to forget things when you are writing a Will. For example, some people are so caught up in the importance of what will happen to money, home and possessions that they omit to specify guardians for their dependents.
The wording of your Will must be specific. Even what could appear to be minor errors in the wording can render your entire Will invalid. Experienced Wills specialists can advise you on these specifics, ensuring that nothing is missed.
If you are not married to your partner and your Will is invalid, they can end up with nothing or may have to bring legal action against your estate in order to get anything. If you are married and you or your spouse have dependents from previous relationships, this can further complicate matters. Having jointly owned property or a share in a business can also cause issues which may be avoided provided you receive the right legal advice.
Amendments to your Will cause further problems. You cannot simply write the changes on your existing Will. They must be made in a specific way and signed by yourself and by witnesses. There are significant problems associated with failing to amend your Will correctly. If your circumstances change, your will must be amended properly if you want to reflect those changes in your Will so that they are legally valid. Whilst DIY Wills may appeal on the basis of affordability, their true costs may be far greater unless they are properly conceived and formulated with the support of legally qualified professionals.