Simple wills won’t protect your legacy

Wills are simple aren’t they? For most of my career, I had been told that wills are so straightforward that anyone can draft them. Unfortunately, this public misconception encourages people to attempt to draft their own wills or buy low-cost “will packs” online or from a stationer.

However, the old adage ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ comes to mind when it comes to preparing a will. Most people don’t know what you can and can’t do with their wills and this can lead to unintended consequences. My previous blog highlighted the general lack of understanding in the importance of wills and of the laws of intestacy. It is therefore remarkable, that 47%* of the public, feel they can do all or part of the work in relation to their wills themselves.

This is similar to going to a builder’s merchant, buying some bricks and mortar and building an extension on a house as the perception is that building work is ‘simple’.  Would this extension be the same standard as that of a professional builder?  It is feasible to say it won’t be. The same principle can be applied when drafting a will.

Whilst it is true that anyone can write a will, indeed, you only have to comply with section nine of the ‘Wills Act 1837’, it is very hard to write the correct will for somebody.  Indeed, preparing a will that takes into account all of someone’s wishes and personal affairs is a skill that is learned after many years of experience.

I have seen ‘home-made wills’ that have disinherited family members and in the worst case have cost family members hundreds of thousands of pounds.  The following example illustrates the point:

  • I was contacted by A to advise in relation to his late father’s (B) wife’s (C) will. B and C met later on in life when A was an adult
  • On B‘s death, he left his entire estate to C
  • C wanted to make a new Will and A telephoned the solicitor.
  • A was quoted £250 plus VAT for the new will. Believing that wills were simple to draft and to save money, A helped C prepare a new will. He did this by amending her existing will on the computer and removed clauses that he deemed to be superfluous
  • When I met with A after C’s death, I noted that various essential clauses had been removed. The effect was that A had completely disinherited himself to the sum of £350,000. C’s estate was divided on the rules of intestacy and genealogists had to be instructed to locate the remote family members many of whom has not seen or spoken to C for many years
  • Trying to save £250 plus VAT cost A £350,000

Not all ‘home made’ wills will result in the above indeed as some professional wills can be incorrectly drafted. Care also needs to be taken with online wills as mistakes can occur as you are not conducting a face to face conversation with draftsman.

It is essential to have your will drafted by a specialist solicitor as he/she will be able to provide you with comprehensive advice about your personal circumstance, your priorities, the law and your options to protect your family.

One way to view the cost is to see it as necessary legal advice rather than for drafting the will. By speaking to a specialist lawyer, you are preventing unwarranted future costs.

*You Gov – Legal Services 2017

James Beresford, Partner

Author: BLM

BLM is an insurance risk and commercial law firm with both a domestic and international focus. We now work with an increasing number of clients, across more lines of business, in more locations throughout the UK and Ireland as well as across the world, than ever before.

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