The true cost of homemade Wills
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Choosing to write your own Will rather than to seek professional advice could seem like a simple and cost-effective way to ensure your loved ones are provided for when you die. Unfortunately, a Will written without legal advice can end up costing hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
Even the smallest of errors can result in problems such as loved ones not inheriting what you had hoped to leave them and may cause friction between surviving family members during what is already a difficult time.
Solicitor Kim Kirk, from Ellis-Fermor & Negus Solicitors, discusses some of the pitfalls of homemade Wills and how you can ensure your wishes are met after your death.
Q: Why is it important to have a Will?
It is important to put a Will in place to ensure you are leaving clear instructions following your death and to direct your assets to your chosen beneficiaries.
If you have any children, a Will enables you to appoint guardians for them in the event you die before they reach the age of 18.
A clear Will can also help to avoid disputes between family members at a time you are no longer there to express your wishes.
Q: What could happen if you die without a valid Will in place?
If you die without a Will, it makes things very difficult for those left behind. A Will sets out who is appointed to deal with your estate, the Executor - a trusted friend or family member - as well as who you wish to inherit, the Beneficiaries.
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If you do not have a Will, the “rules of intestacy” will apply. The rules of Intestacy look at your family tree. If there is no Will then research may have to be carried out to find your closest living relative. This research can be costly and the result could be that someone you have never even met benefits from your estate.
Sadly, I have dealt with cases like this before where the deceased might have preferred to leave their assets to close friends or even to a charity but instead, their entire estate passed to someone they never knew.
It is also important to be aware of the common misconception that a spouse or civil partner will receive everything. This is not always the case. Depending on the value of your assets, some of your assets will go to your spouse or civil partner, but if you have children some of your assets may go to them instead, this could trigger inheritance tax problems.
Q: What are some of the risks of having a homemade Will?
While it is legal to write your own Will, it is important to take great care as even a small mistake can have a huge impact, and may result in long delays and higher costs in administering your estate. It could also cause a great deal of distress to a family member or a friend who is already very upset because they have just lost a loved one.
How a Will is witnessed and signed is very important, a Will must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses who cannot be named as “beneficiaries.” I have seen an example of this where a daughter witnessed her father’s homemade Will, by doing this she had effectively written herself out of the Will.
Care also needs to be taken when dating a Will, an incomplete or incorrect date can cause issues when dealing with an estate.
If there is a problem with the way a Will is signed then a witness may be asked in this case to sign a sworn statement to clarify matters. In many cases, the Will was written many years before and witnesses cannot remember witnessing the Will or may no longer be around. A case like this could take weeks and hundreds of pounds to resolve.
Once you have a Will, it is important to review it every 3-5 years as you would be surprised how much your circumstance can change. If you wish to make any minor amendments, you would not be charged for a whole new Will. In fact, this can be an excellent opportunity to check everything is still as you want it to be.
If your circumstances change and you wish to make any changes to your Will, it is important to get any amendments formally made, signed and witnessed again. If these required legal formalities are not complied with, your amendments will not be valid and you may end up with disappointed family members who had hoped to inherit specific assets.
In short, a small issue could end up costing a lot of money when the beneficiaries of the estate could have inherited that money themselves. An investment of a few hundred pounds now on a professionally written Will could save you and your family thousands in the future.
Q: Why is it important to have a Will drawn up by a legal professional?
There are strict legal formalities that have to be complied with when making a Will. A legal professional will ensure that all these important steps are followed correctly and that the Will is valid.
You should consider using a solicitor to write your Will as they will look at all your current circumstances, such as your family situation and how much inheritance tax you might need to pay. They will then offer tailored advice to help you think about how to plan for the future.
Q: How expensive is a professionally written Will?
The cost of a Will depends on the complexity. A more complex Will may cost more initially but it could save you thousands of pounds in the long run, especially if you have specific requirements about where you would like your assets to go.
Situations that might make a Will more complex may include if you plan to leave a business to someone, you wish to set up a Trust or if you have children from a previous marriage. However complex a Will might be, we will always give a fixed fee at the start of the process based on your specific requirements.