Drawing up a will is an essential way of ensuring that your savings and assets are distributed according to your final wishes, yet many people fail to prepare one for fear of the cost.
DIY wills offer a cheaper alternative to a solicitor. Look online, and it’s possible to pick up a DIY kit from WH Smith for £16.99; cheaper options still are available on Amazon and other retail sites.
But while an off-the-shelf will may seem attractive at this price, it can be a risky approach: if errors are made, or if the strict witnessing rules are not followed correctly, the document could be invalid.
Figures from the Co-operative Legal Services suggest that poorly drafted or ineffective DIY wills are to blame for a prolonged probate ordeal for 38,000 families a year. This makes for worrying reading, given that up to 10% of the value of a person’s estate can be absorbed in additional fees as a result of an ineffective will.
Eileen McCormack, 72, knows the limitations of DIY wills all too well, having spent more than two years dealing with her cousin’s estate after discovering the document he had carried around in his pocket for several years was invalid. It was only after his death at 73 that a number of errors were discovered.
“There were hand-written amendments in different-coloured inks, plus the will wasn’t witnessed at the time it was drafted — nor when any of the changes were made,” says Eileen. “He constantly amended it and moved figures around, altering what people were due to inherit.”
Eileen discovered the extent of the problem only when she contacted a legal service to carry out the necessary probate work. The absence of a valid will resulted in 16% of George’s £98,000 estate being used to pay for fees — costs which could have been avoided.
“I tried to tell George to go to a solicitor, but he never did,” she says. “This has made the whole process very stressful for those left behind. It’s also very sad because George put a lot of thought into how his estate would be distributed in the event of his death. He wouldn’t have wanted this.”
The Citizens Advice Bureau advises that while you can go down the DIY route if the will is straightforward, such as a married couple with no children leaving everything to each other, it is generally advisable to use a solicitor.
Patrick Connolly of financial advisers Chase de Vere adds that if any conditions need to be added, or if there are any additional complications, doing it yourself could easily prove a false economy.
“This is particularly the case if you aren’t married to your partner, if you and your partner have children from previous relationships, if you are looking to split properties, if you own a business, have overseas assets, or are concerned about inheritance tax.”
Some of the most common mistakes with DIY wills relate to the execution of the document itself, such as failing to get it witnessed correctly by two independent adults at the same time — neither of whom can be a beneficiary. Other errors include misspelled names and failure to sign the document correctlly.
Mistakes such as these can pose real issues, as a will cannot be quickly rectified with a few simple corrections. Problems can also arise if your circumstances change, as many DIY wills cannot accommodate this.
If you want to find a solicitor, begin by asking friends and colleagues for local recommendations, but make sure the solicitor you choose is accredited with the Law Society.