The Online Age
As technology evolves and alters the way in which people manage their daily lives, there seems to be an ever growing desire for people to be able to make their Will online.
This, to me, makes complete sense. When was the last time you walked into a branch of your local bank? Banking online is now the norm, so is booking trains, flights and entertainment tickets online, shopping online, chatting online etc. So why not write your Will online too?
You may have recently seen some fairly sensationalistic headlines in the news about proposed changes in the law that might let you write your Will by email or via text message. Just so it’s absolutely clear, you can’t do that. Furthermore, the proposals from the Law Commission (that triggered the headlines) didn’t recommend that you should be able to do it either. A simple search on Google brings up a whole host of companies that say that you can write your Will online but the reality is, in fact, you can’t. There’s a very simple reason why you can’t and that’s because the law requires your Will to be signed by you in the presence of two witnesses. You can’t satisfy this requirement electronically, so it needs to be a ‘wet’ (ink) signature.
So what can you do online? Unfortunately the spectrum of services available in the online Will market is broad and it’s confusing for consumers to understand what they are getting for their money.
They may ask themselves questions such as, “why is one online service more expensive than another?” “Am I going to get a Will that works for my particular circumstances?” “Is it going to be a legally valid Will?”
These are all very relevant questions.
Will Writing is an Unregulated Market
It’s important to know that Will writing is unregulated. Anyone, regardless of their knowledge, experience or expertise can set up a Will writing business (online or otherwise), start offering Will writing services to the general public and charge a fee for it.
This creates a potential risk to anyone who uses these types of services, not just around the quality of the service received, but also around the quality of the Will written and whether arising issues can be resolved after their death.
It’s for this reason that many people prefer to use a legal service provider that’s regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The SRA make sure that legal service providers in England and Wales operate independently, with integrity and in the interests of their clients and the public.
To find out whether a business is SRA regulated, you can do a search here.
Why is One Online Service More Expensive Than Another?
As tempting as it may be to think you’re getting a great deal by finding the cheapest option, in the legal industry this is rarely the case – a really cheap service doesn’t necessarily equate to a quality service.
Choosing a legal service provider is not the same as going online and purchasing an identical item at a lower price to get a bargain. The price you pay is likely to be related to the cost of a business providing that service.
For example, if the service is unregulated and fully automated (i.e. the Will is produced from your answers to a series of online questions) then it should be cheap because it’s a simple electronic process.
However, what you’re not getting is the opportunity to speak to an experienced professional who can discuss your circumstances, explain your options and make suggestions for you to consider, to ensure that you’re getting the right Will for you. Although many people know what they want to set out in their Wills, not everyone considers things like:
- what happens if a beneficiary dies before them?
- what is the role of executors and how does this differ from a trustee?
- how do you describe a particular gift in your Will so that it’s legally effective?
- what happens to jointly owned property, bank accounts and possessions?
- who has a right to challenge the Will after the testator’s death?
- what happens if a beneficiary inherits under the age of 18?
- what are the rules around appointing a guardian for young children?
Choosing the Right Option for You
So you need to ask yourself: do I want my Will drafted based on your answers to fixed questions or do I want my Will to be drafted by an experienced professional after I’ve had a discussion with them? If the latter, then there is a cost to provide this, which will ultimately form part of the price you pay for the Will service you have chosen.
Why do some online companies charge less than £50 to write your Will for you? Is it because they are looking to offer you an amazing deal for the good of mankind or is it because they can afford to because they are not regulated and there is little or no human involvement? Or, if there is human involvement, what are they doing for you and how much experience do they actually have?
Be Aware of the Risks
If you’re going to rely on a computer program to write your Will then you need to be aware of the risks involved. Typically, the document is only as good as the information you provide it with, so if you choose your pet Labrador to sort out your money and possessions after you die, then it would probably allow you to name it as your executor because the online system simply asks you for a name.
The fact that the appointment of a pet as an executor is completely inappropriate and wouldn’t take effect, doesn’t change the fact that the online service might allow you to do it. I appreciate this is an extreme example, but when you consider how many issues can arise when making your Will, it’s simply impossible for a pre-defined set of fixed questions to cover everyone’s circumstances every time. Because of this, many online businesses providing this type of service significantly limit their liability. You’re not getting a legal service, you’re actually just getting a document production service.
Always check the Terms & Conditions of Service
A good way of understanding whether a service is going to be suitable for your circumstances is to look at their terms of business. These may seem a bit dry and boring, however you can guarantee that it will set out what the company is prepared to be responsible for when producing your Will and more specifically, what they aren’t going to be responsible for. So it’s vital that, at the very least, you read the section that explains who is responsible for what. Believe it or not, there are online Will services that take no responsibility for even creating a valid Will, or that the clauses in the Will are actually going to have legal effect!
If you’re thinking of using an online Will service, here’s a quick check list to follow:
- Always read the terms and conditions
- Make sure the business is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority
- Make sure you are able to speak to someone experienced as part of the service so that you can ask questions.
- Find out whether someone is writing your Will or if it’s a fully automated service which simply processes the information that you provide.
- Make sure the Will service includes storage of your original Will at no additional cost. Some businesses may try and charge extra for these services which increase the initial headline price.
- Make sure the Will service is provided as a one off, fixed fee, cost. Some businesses opt you into an annual recurring fee, or they charge a fee after your death based on the value of your estate.
Co-op’s Online Wills Service
Co-op’s online Wills service has been designed with all the above factors in mind. We are regulated by the SRA and our Wills Team write Wills that have been individually tailored.
We offer a fixed fee service which can be started online anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days of the week, before speaking with one of our Will Writers who will review your wishes, discuss your circumstances with you and answer any questions you have. The final Will is then drafted for you to sign which can be securely stored by us for the rest of your life, free of charge.