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The Perils of DIY Wills

These days it is possible to buy a do-it-yourself Will kit online or in a stationery shop for as little as £10, making the option seem cheaper and potentially faster and simpler than using a solicitor to prepare your Will for you. But do these kits really offer value for money and a viable alternative for people wishing to plan ahead and put their affairs in order?

The problems which arise with DIY Wills fall into 2 categories:

1. The Will is not valid

The law surrounding Wills in England and Wales is complicated and there are a lot of requirements for a Will to be considered valid. They must be signed in the right place, using the right wording, with the right witnesses who must also list certain details…the list goes on.

DIY Wills do not always make clear what the requirements are and of course there is nobody to check once the Will has been signed that everything appears correct. This means that if there is a problem with the Will, it is often not discovered until after the person has passed away and it is too late to rectify the situation.

If the Will is considered not to be valid, the same intestacy rules which would apply if the person did not write a Will are used to determine what happens to that person’s estate – even if this is clearly at odds with their wishes as set out in the invalid Will.

In some instances, this means that estates pass to family members who may be estranged from the person who has died, or that an unmarried partner may receive nothing, even if they have been in a long-term relationship with the deceased.

If you prepare a Will with a solicitor, they will usually provide witnesses for you and, in any event, will check that everything is done in accordance with the law to ensure that the Will is validly executed.

2. The Will is valid but key considerations have been missed

Correctly signing a DIY Will is still no guarantee that a person’s wishes will be properly carried out. There are lots of factors to consider when making provision for the distribution of an estate to loved ones and being unaware of these can cause problems for the families left behind.

For example, if a husband and wife want to leave everything to each other and prepare Wills confirming this, on the first death the survivor will inherit. However, what if there is no provision made for what should happen on the second death or in the event that they were to pass away at the same time?

Similarly, gifting specific assets can cause problems. If a person lists each bank account they own, their house, their car, etc and who they want these to pass to and they subsequently move or change banks by the time they pass away, the gifts contained in the Will would fail and the assets not covered could fall under the intestacy rules as they were not provided for in the Will.

If there are problems with your Will, your family could spend a lot of money on legal proceedings to try and deal with the situation and there would be no guarantee of success.

Solicitors are there to ensure that beneficiaries are sufficiently identified, that alternative provisions are included where necessary and that everything in your estate that needs to pass under your Will, can do so. They can also provide advice on additional complicating factors, such as foreign assets which could involve cross-jurisdictional issues, the potential to reduce the inheritance tax payable on an estate, or steps which can be taken to mitigate claims which could be made against an estate; for example if you do not wish to include certain family members in your Will.

It is true that instructing a solicitor to draw up your Will will cost more than if you prepared a Will yourself using a DIY kit. However, using a solicitor should give you peace of mind and the knowledge that when you pass away, your instructions and wishes will be respected and carried out and the people that you want to benefit from your estate, will do so.

If you would like to discuss making a Will, contact Elizabeth Mitchell