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Home-made Wills – a recipe for disaster?

With August seeing the return of that well known BBC baking programme, we turn our attention to the rising trend in home-made Wills and why, all too often, they can be a recipe for disaster.

Tap a few keys into an internet search bar (or to pop into the local post office if you’re lucky enough to still have one) and you can find a template for drafting your own Will. In fact, a 2013 survey suggested 1.6million people who have a Will, based it on a DIY kit.

It might seem like a quick, easy and cheap way to ensure your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes, but when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. There are strict rules surrounding the execution of Wills and if you get these “ingredients” wrong, your Will may turn out to be invalid, the consequences of which can be disastrous.

What can go wrong?

Some of the pitfalls we see in home-made Wills are:

  • Lack of proper wording – there are specific clauses which should appear in a Will e.g. where the testator signs the document. If these are missing, the Will may be invalid. 
  • Failing to date the Will – this can be a critical error, particularly if the Will appoints guardians, or if you have made a number of Wills.
  • Witnesses – if there are not enough of them, or if witnesses are not present at the time the Will is signed, the Will is invalid. If the witness is a beneficiary (or related to a beneficiary) then the gift to that person is invalid. 
  • Failing to deal with the “what if” scenario – if a person appointed as an executor dies, or if a beneficiary dies before you and Will does not set out what should happen in those circumstances, this can lead to difficulties.
  • Handwritten amendments – whilst keeping names and addresses (or even figures) up to date as years pass can seem sensible, informal amendments will be invalid. Any writing which looks like it has happened after the Will has been signed will be ignored.

What if my Will is invalid?

You (or more to the point, your intended beneficiaries) may find that the document has no legal effect, which means your carefully planned wishes are ignored. An invalid Will creates emotional and financial uncertainty for your family, whilst the additional time, complexity and cost involved in dealing with the estate of a person who dies intestate (i.e. without a valid Will) can be significant. In the absence of a valid Will, your estate is distributed according to a set of legal rules (the intestacy rules), which set out who is entitled to a share in your estate and how much they should receive.

This is likely to cause tension within families and lead to unexpected results. Contrary to popular myth, a surviving spouse will not automatically receive all of an estate. The position is even worse for unmarried couples, as the surviving partner receives nothing under these statutory rules. In as a recent case, a long estranged spouse benefitted from her husband’s estate under the intestacy rules because his meticulously detailed, home made Will was not valid.

What can I do?

These issues can be easily avoided if your Will is properly drafted by a solicitor. Not only does this ensure your Will is valid and your wishes are carried out, it can also save a lot of potential stress and possible heartbreak for your family who might otherwise be left to deal with the consequences of your invalid Will.

By using our professional service, you will receive the benefit of specialist advice which is tailored to your individual circumstances. This may include helping you to avoid or reduce any inheritance tax liability on your estate – which preserves your assets for your intended beneficiaries.

So, puns about Wills with soggy bottoms aside, please contact us on 0117 906 9400 or enquiries@gregglatchams.com if you’d like to make a new Will or to review an existing Will.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

Categories: Family & Relationships | Family Office | For You | Wills & Inheritance

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