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DIY Wills. Don't take the law into your own hands.

I can understand why clients like the idea of a Will they can prepare themselves, in the comfort of their own home, without obtaining help or advice from a solicitor.  However, we all know of situations where long-lost relatives have popped out of the woodwork when they hear of the death of “poor Aunt Joyce”. 

I have experienced so many difficult situations with bereaved family members and the delays and complications that can follow from a badly prepared Will that in my (relatively biased) opinion, it is always worth taking proper advice. 

The worst case scenario with a DIY Will is the Will not being signed correctly.  How hard can it be? – Well, you’d be surprised!  This happens more frequently than you might expect as there are strict rules on how Wills should be signed and witnessed.  If your Will is not signed correctly, then it will not be valid and your wishes will not be carried out.

Particularly bad Wills that I have seen over the course of my career include:

  • A Will which did not appoint a person to act as an executor (the person with legal responsibility to administer the estate)
  • Family members’ names being misspelt. 
  • A Will where three generations of the family had the same name and it was not clear which of them received the gift under the Will
  • Percentages in the Will not adding up in total to 100 and an amount being stated in numbers and then not matching the amount provided in words.
  • A Will which left the individual’s estate to their spouse, who had predeceased them, with no provision for who should inherit the estate given the spouse’s earlier death. 
  • Wills which include very long lists of general assets – everything from tea-sets to living room furniture to bed linen! 
  • Significant hand-made amendments to gifts in the Will which were not signed and witnessed correctly and therefore not valid.

Other Wills I have seen completely fail to take the individual’s personal circumstances into account.  One acrimonious case I dealt with involved a Will whereby the deceased had appointed their son’s ex-wife and her new partner to act as the executors of the estate, unfortunately this lead to a family dispute and a great deal of stress and awkwardness on both sides as the estate was being administered.  There was no reason why this individual had not appointed their children or a family friend as an executor; this would have made the situation much easier.

Unfortunately, a lot of family members fall out after bereavement, I’m sure we’ve all seen this happen with friends, family and colleagues.  A badly-drafted Will can complicate the process of dealing with an estate and lead to uncertainty and confusion.   Such Wills can often exacerbate difficult relationships and can lead to claims being brought against the estate.  If this happens, it can cause significant delays, be costly and emotionally draining for your loved ones to deal with. 

In the same way that very few of us would consider pulling out our own teeth rather than going to a dentist, making a Will should be a process which involves you taking proper advice from a qualified professional.  It is important that a Will reflects your wishes, that it is practical in light of your personal circumstances, tax-efficient and well-drafted.  A badly-drafted Will can be more expensive in the long-run than the costs of taking professional advice initially.