DIY Wills Are Swallowing Up Families Inheritance
The popularity of budget DIY Wills has meant grieving families are increasingly becoming entwined in bitter inheritance disputes resulting in being eaten up by legal bills.
Using cheap online Wills could see final wishes ignored and estates being swallowed up by expensive legal bills.
A Money Mail investigation has found numerous pitfalls with the ever-popular DIY online Wills and online services which start less than £10.00.
The low cost online Wills include a Super Value Pack from Amazon costing £6.99, the second is a LawPack Last Will & Testament Kit on sale at WHSmith for £22.99 and also an offer from online firm Nine Minute Will costing £14.99.
Experts have warned that the online Wills are riddled with risk, yet it costs as little as £150 for a solicitor to draft a Will which will ensure assets are correctly dealt with after death.
With more and more people attempting to write their own Wills, the validity of legal documents being disputed are on the rise – leaving loved ones in acrimonious court battles which can result in Wills even being declared invalid.
In the last year, the number of inheritance disputes heard by the High Court has increased by over 60%, from 227 to 368.
Drafting a Will yourself without using professional Will Writers is risky and can lead to serious issues in the administration of an estate after someone passes away.
Without the legal help of experts, the use of ambiguous wording can be misinterpreted, plus the Will could be invalidated entirely due to not conforming to the witness-based formalities.
Experts are now calling on the sector to be better regulated after a significant rise in contested estates in the High Court, which have been attributed to low-cost online Wills.
Ryan Taylor, a Contentious Probate Solicitor at Anthony Gold comments on why there is no substitute for a professionally drafted Will. He said:
“The best written Wills are often the simplest. But simplicity in the Will document itself does not truly represent the complexity of estate planning law and interaction of assets that need to be considered. To ensure your assets are dealt with correctly after you die, there is no substitute for an expertly prepared Will. Simply filling in a pro-forma document obtained online or at the Post Office will never give you the certainty necessary that you have completed the document correctly, and covered all the necessary considerations.
“Assets such as jointly owned property and joint bank accounts would generally not form part of your estate for distribution – they instead pass automatically to the surviving owner. An estate planning solicitor is best placed to consider how your assets are owned and prepare a Will that matches your wishes, whilst also advising you on additional steps you may wish to take for the jointly owned assets, life policies and pensions. Inheritance tax planning is also often part of the service, looking at transfer benefits around your home, spousal exemptions, and reductions in tax payable when certain charitable bequests are made.
“Thoroughly prepared Wills also consider appointing substitute executors and substitute beneficiaries. Most home Will kits do not allow for this level of layering and filling in a form yourself deprives you of the opportunity to discuss these potential scenarios with an expert before finalising and signing.
“Perhaps one of the most important functions of a solicitor in preparing a Will, however, is their assessment of the Will maker’s capacity. For a Will to be valid at all, a person must be able to make one and a solicitor will be able to determine this. Testamentary capacity takes into account any disorders of the mind, the Will maker’s understanding of their assets to be disposed of by the Will, their understanding of the effect of the Will they are making plus appreciation of any claims that could be made against their estate. A solicitor’s assessment that a Will maker does have sufficient capacity, and their file notes to this effect, can be important evidence in court if the estate is ever disputed.
“Sadly, I have seen the failings of “do it yourself Wills” in many forms. Some have been incorrectly witnessed, meaning the document had to be formally approved. Some had beneficiaries as witnesses to the Will, resulting in that witness missing out on their inheritance. Another only gifted a specific asset which no longer existed at the time of death, meaning the estate was not properly distributed by the Will and so was subject to distribution under the intestacy rules. In each case, the surviving family members stood to lose much more than the Will maker had saved in preparing their own Will.
“The risk of poorly prepared Wills is that any errors are not normally discovered until after the Will maker has died. At this point it is too late to easily correct any issues, resulting in the estate not being distributed as had been intended, or time and costs wasted trying to rectify the problems in Court. When we all spend so much time and effort working to set up our homes and finances – why would you risk that all by comparably small savings in the short term?”