The number of Will writing companies grows year on year. Their prices are competitive to say the least. Well know high street retailers sell Will packs for around the £20. Home shopping channels have also started selling Wills. If you have a fairly simple estate then choosing a cheaper alternative might not be a bad idea. Problems arise if you have a larger estate, perhaps bordering on a complex estate. A complex estate might consist of the family home, savings and investments, several properties, some rented or held within a property investment company – a managed portfolio. Add in an overseas holiday home and a family run business and you can see where I am going.
The main thing that strikes me is that most people work very hard all their lives. They have made numerous sacrifices to grow their wealth. They have the intention of providing for their children. However, despite all this, they will then look to make a Will on the cheap. It does not make sense. Will drafting is a craft. As with so many things these days, the craft of Will drafting has been dumbed down but this does not mean that it is without its faults. If you choose a cheap method of making a Will, you may take the risk that it is not properly drafted.
Even worse, it may have been drafted without taking into account tax planning and reducing your tax bill on death. Will drafting is not just about putting some words together in a legally binding document. To do it justice, you should consider the whole picture and anticipate your needs and your dependent’s needs.
The alternative is to have a bespoke Will drafted by a solicitor. As solicitors, we have seen a rise every year on the number of Wills being challenged. A single mistake on a home made Will or by a Will writer can cost families £1,000s. If we were cynical as a profession, we would simply encourage the use of home made Wills knowing the litigation would come our way. But we are not!
Will writing is not a reserved activity, meaning, anyone can do it. The problem is though that by letting ‘anyone do it’, you are open to mistakes being made when the Will is drafted. Even the smallest of mistakes can cause huge problems. Not all Will writers are trained whilst solicitors are. Often the Will writing factory will not be covered through insurance. We have seen a lot of Will writing companies go out of business. Solicitors have proper professional indemnity insurance and so there is some compensation if mistakes happen.
By way of example, this particular case concerned a Will by which, after specific legacies, a woman bequeathed the residue of her £437,000 estate equally to those of her three sons who were living at the date of her death. Two of them died before her, one of them having had a daughter. An issue thus arose as to whether the latter was entitled to inherit her father’s share of the estate. The surviving son argued that he was entitled to the entire estate on the basis that the gift to his brother lapsed on his death.
The Court noted that a straightforward interpretation of the Will supported the surviving son’s arguments. However, that ignored Section 33 of the Wills Act 1837. That provision requires that, where bequests are made to children or other descendants who die before they can inherit, their entitlements will normally pass to any of their own children who survive them.
There was insufficient evidence, either in the wording of the Will or in the deceased’s conduct, that indicated that Section 33 did not to apply to her Will. In the circumstances, the daughter was entitled to inherit a legacy of almost £50,000 left to her deceased father and his half share of the residuary estate. The matter was resolved but at what cost to both sides? What will be the long term impact on family relationships. How will the niece feel knowing that her uncle tried to take away her inheritance?
If your estate is worth more than the paper it is written on, take professional advice and go see a solicitor. If you find yourself tempted to save a few pounds by dispensing with legal advice there may be consequences you had not anticipated!! Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
If you are concerned about the validity of a will that has been or is about to be created, take advice from us, without delay. Email me, Eilish Adams, today at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 020 3150 2525.