10 ways a DIY Will could leave your family in the lurch
The number of enquiries about people who have died without making a Will has more than doubled over the past five years, according to Citizens Advice. The charity had 1,522 such queries in 2011, rising to 3,747 in 2015.
Less than half of Britons have a Will, with the cost putting many off. But while DIY Wills may appear a far cheaper alternative, with some retailing for as little as £10, this can be a false economy. As they have grown in popularity, so too have queries about problems executing Wills.
"Cutting corners by using a DIY Will could cause even more problems for those left behind than not having one at all," says Chris Burrows, Head of Private Client at Glaisyers Solicitors LLP. "Most people don’t have the knowledge or ability to draw up legal documents themselves, even for what appears to be the most straightforward estate."
And these days, most estates are not straightforward, particularly if you and your partner aren’t married; have children from previous relationships; are looking to split properties; own a business; have overseas assets; or are concerned about inheritance tax.
In such cases, the implications of going it alone can be serious. Not only do you risk leaving your family with an added financial and emotional burden, but an estimated 10% of the value of a person’s estate can be absorbed in additional fees due to an ineffective Will.
Here are the 10 most common problems with going it alone…
- The Will was not witnessed correctly – to become legally binding, a Will must be witnessed by two independent adults at the same time, and, ideally, at least one should be younger than you. If they sign at different times it is invalid. Also, if any witness is a beneficiary, it can compromise the validity of the Will.
- Not dating the Will - although there is no legal requirement for the Will to be dated, it makes things much simpler if it is. Where there is more than one Will in existence, the Court must be satisfied that the document produced is the last valid Will and without a date this can cause problems.
- Not putting it in a place where it can be found - obviously it is important that the executor of your Will knows where to find your documents so they can carry out your wishes. If you decide to store your Will yourself, you should always keep it in a safe place where your executor can easily access it.
- Not ensuring all assets are accounted for – as situations change, so should the Will. Having a baby, getting married, buying a house, getting divorced, retiring … all should be key triggers for you to spend five or 10 minutes going through your Will to make sure it’s all up to date. Failure to do so can result in such assets passing to the residual beneficiaries, when ideally you would have left them to someone else. Also, while it’s possible to leave gifts in your Will free of Inheritance Tax, if no provisions are included this leads to them suffering tax at 40%. And remember, you can't just change details in a Will. A codicil must be created and initialled by you and both witnesses.
- Failure to appoint Executors – this may lead to a person you had not intended to act applying to the Court for permission to administer your estate.
- Failing to distinguish between children - this is particularly relevant with non-birth children and when the said child has not been adopted. Failure to expressly refer to the child could result in them not being included as a beneficiary if you simply leave your assets to ‘your children’.
- Failure to appoint guardians – it is often assumed that one of the parents to the child/children will survive the other, but it is worth appointing guardians to look after the child/children should the worst happen.
- No gift-over provisions – should a beneficiary predecease you and your Will not include a beneficiary in their place, it may result in the gift then passing under the Intestacy Provisions to an unintended beneficiary.
- Will not written in plain English – this can lead to ambiguity over what was intended and having to apply to the Court for rectification. Other errors include misspelled names.
- Signing the wrong Will – it has been known that husband signs his wife’s Will and vice versa, which, of course, renders both Wills invalid.
Small mistakes can lead to big problems when writing a Will. A DIY Will could save you cash in the short term, but if it all goes wrong, you won't be around to sort it out. Using a competent Solicitor will ensure that these things are checked.