The Pitfalls and Traps of DIY Wills: Will They Cost you in the Future?
The last couple of years have thrown many people financial challenges. The pandemic and the recent cost of living crisis have caused people to cut back, with legal services and advice being an area in which many look to save money. It is therefore understandable, why easily accessible and cheaper alternatives, such as DIY (handwritten) wills, have been preferred by some.
Be cautious with this approach:
Your will may be the most important document that you sign in your lifetime, dealing with your assets and wishes for when you are no longer here. It will also help your loved ones to make important decisions when they need the support most.
DIY wills seemed a good idea for many during the pandemic, when people were fearful that they might die without a will in place and may have been concerned about seeing a solicitor in person. But a will drafted with no legal advice or input may be catastrophic when your wishes need to be considered after your death.
So, what are the pitfalls of DIY wills? Firstly, in making the will itself, many people with no legal knowledge or experience may inadvertently produce poorly worded and ambiguous clauses that may ultimately be difficult for others to interpret. An example of this may be ‘children’. Have you considered what the definition of children may include? Would you want this to include stepchildren, adopted/foster children or additional children born after the will has been made?
Legal advice can be essential when drafting a will in order to ensure that you utilise certain Inheritance Tax reliefs that may be available to your estate. Legal professionals will also be able to assist you in planning your estate and explaining options that you may not be aware of should, for example, there be a disabled beneficiary to consider, previous marriages, stepchildren, a cohabiting partner or assets overseas.
How a will is signed and witnessed can be the difference between a valid and an invalid will as determined in S.9 Wills Act. If a will is invalid on a person’s death, the intestacy rules will apply to the estate instead. The issue with such an assumption may be that intestacy rules may not be in accordance with your wishes. It may also make the estate administration more difficult and costly when the time comes.
In 2018, a 60% increase in cases issuing in the High Court was reported in respect of inheritance disputes. Further, 2021 saw a 37% increase from 2019 and 10,000 inheritance challenges and disputes. It is likely that some of these cases are related to the increase in DIY wills being drafted. Successful challenges may increase as a result of the pandemic – with many people being isolated and vulnerable, claims of undue influence, for example, may be more likely to be put forward than ever before.
The impact of inheritance disputes can result in very high legal fees, exceeding the cost of legal professionals drafting your will initially; it may well be a ‘false economy’ to do it yourself. Further, the effect on bereaved families can be devastating when a claim is pursued. The fall out of a claim can cause heartbreak and distance between relatives, which will rarely be the intention of the deceased when making their will.
Inheritance disputes solicitor Sarah Young of Ridley & Hall sees a lot of cases like this: “Unless your estate is very straightforward, I’d always strongly advise getting a solicitor to prepare your will; if you get it wrong, it can be a nightmare and that’s not the legacy you want to leave your family when you die.”
At Ridley & Hall, we have Wills & Probate solicitors available to offer professional legal advice and put in place your will documentation. Please do not hesitate to contact our friendly and approachable team on our free phone 0800 8 60 62 65 for further information or to arrange an appointment.