Why shouldn’t I write my own Will… ?

A member of the public recently told me he didn’t need a solicitor to prepare a Will as he’d written his own, before adding he didn’t see why anyone else would “pay for it either”.

The argument seems straightforward - I mean you can Google anything these days - but sadly fails to take account of the vast complexities surrounding Wills & Probate. I feel it’s important to issue a warning about the problems that DIY and poorly drafted Wills usually cause.

Off-the-shelf wills, downloading standard forms from the internet, writing a Will from scratch in a notepad, or even employing a non-regulated and untrained individual to write it for you, can seem a very appealing way of having your wishes documented and saving a few pounds at the same time.

But, there is a reason most people seek professional guidance, just as they would get help installing a new boiler or getting their car serviced. It’s not a simple thing to do, there is so much more to it than just listing your assets and who you want them to go to after your death.

So many problems arise from badly worded documents, resulting in the need for expensive legal services further to sort out, far exceeding the cost of drawing up the Will properly in the first place. There’s a well-known example of a man who wrote his own Will and amended it over time in different coloured pens, without the changes being properly witnessed. It cost almost £16,000 in legal to sort it out after his death.

Wills need clarity and to be worded absolutely correctly, otherwise family disputes can arise. If clauses within the Will are uncertain, they can be invalid and beneficiaries may not receive what you had intended. They may receive more or less, or nothing at all purely because of a simple grammatical or drafting error. The estate could instead be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules. Even the way in which the Will is signed and witnessed is important, and can fall foul of a lack of knowledge.

For example, the use of a comma could result in different interpretations of a clause, and any ambiguity can be enough to make the will invalid or subject to a claim. Similarly, failure to date or have the will properly witnessed could see witnesses being tracked down years later, and relying on their memory to prove its veracity.

As a private client solicitor I see the damage a badly drafted will can cause, ripping families apart as they battle for their share. Equally, I have seen the peace of mind provided by having things done properly.

Modern families come in all shapes and sizes. With married and unmarried partners given different legal rights and often children from different relationships, there are complexities to be considered. Not making adequate provision for family members could lead to a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 for example. Inheritance tax and paying for nursing care are other factors which need to be looked at before fully understanding the impact of the decisions being made.

As a professional I know the pitfalls, I know the hard questions that need to be asked, the things you may not have considered. And I know exactly how to write it in such a way that there is no chance of your wishes not being carried out to the letter.

DIY Wills are, by and large, a false economy. Don’t risk leaving your family with an expensive mess to clear up after you’ve gone. Pay a qualified person to document your wishes formally, at a cost which is likely to be much less expensive than you think.
It’s too late once you’re gone, and too important not to do it right.

Some common things people forget:
a) Have you provided adequately for children under 18 in terms of guardianship?
b) Do you have children from a former relationship? Have you adequately protected their inheritance?
c) Are you aware of the rules surrounding inheritance tax, do you know how it will affect your estate and your beneficiaries?
d) Are you aware that how your Will is written can have a significant impact on how much of your estate will be assessed for care fees, should your surviving spouse require residential/nursing care in the future?
e) Have you adequately provided for a partner with whom you reside, as common law rights are not legally recognised, to avoid them facing a long and involved court battle after your death.