It is hard to miss all the media of late, full of stories about disputes over inheritance. Such stories tend to bring the importance of making a Will to the forefront of our mind. Nonetheless, time pressures and possibly worry about already stretched finances make some people opt for the cheaper and quicker option of homemade or DIY Wills. If your Will is straightforward, there is often no problem. The reality is that for many, Wills are not so simple particularly in cases of second families. Worryingly, they may be stepping into an area with a high risk of future disputes over their Wills. This begs the question, is a homemade Will worth the paper it is written on?
This very much depends on various things. There are strict rules when executing a Will. Many do not realise that they need two people present at the same time to witness them signing their Will. Often they would call their witnesses one at a time to execute their Will. Sadly, if you do this, your Will is invalid and your wishes will not be followed when your estate is distributed. This may make some of your disappointed beneficiaries approach the court for a decision on how your estate should be distributed. All of the above add considerably to the costs of administering your estate.
Homemade Wills are a fertile ground for disputes over fraud and forgery. Such disputes often have to be resolved at court at substantial costs to the estate. Unlike with a professionally drawn Will, there rarely is an independent third party to testify over the validity of a homemade Will. Usually it is a matter of one person’s word over another and this can result in a protracted court case with the costs escalating at an alarming rate. In my experience, independent handwriting experts often have to be instructed to give an opinion on whether a Will has been forged, and so is not valid. This is an added but necessary expense in terms of litigation costs in order to resolve the dispute.
Writing a Will is a specialised skill. The wording used have specific meanings and consequences. You could include a provision in your Will which produces an outcome you did not want at all. For instance, you may want to leave all your estate to your husband, wife or partner so that when they in turn die, they can leave their estate to your children. If you are not careful in how this is worded, you could end up creating a trust in favour of your husband or wife rather than giving them the gift outright. Equally you may want to include provisions in your Will which will not work because they are against public policy. An example of this is where you give a gift to somebody in your Will and include a condition that they should divorce their partner before they can take their gift. In short, by writing a homemade Will you could be writing a Will that is correct in formalities but doesn’t actually do what you want it to do!
You can avoid these by having your Will prepared professionally. We have a saying that if your estate is worth more than the paper it is written on, i.e. a £15.99 Will pack from a local retailer, then take legal advice. The cost of getting it wrong for your estate is likely to be in the thousands. A false economy if ever there was one.
For expert legal advice and assistance with writing your Will professionally, please contact me, Sangeeta Moore, at The Law House Solicitors on 020 8899 6620 or 07825 838 922. Alternatively you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org I make home visits at no extra costs.