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Do It Yourself Wills – A Cost Effective Way Of Dealing With Your Affairs Or A Disaster Waiting To Happen?

A recent study by IRN Legal Reports showed only 35% of UK adults have made a Will and a report in 2023 from the National Will Register found that 42% of adults in the UK had not spoken to anyone about what should happen to their estate upon their death. 

Why Make a Will?

The most obvious reason for making a Will is to ensure an individual’s assets pass as they wish on their death. Making a Will also allows an individual to choose who should have the responsibility of dealing with the estate i.e. their executor(s), can provide named guardians for minor children, ring fence assets in trust and protect vulnerable beneficiaries.

Now more so than ever, people can have considerable assets to leave compared to the past, mainly due to the hyper increase in property prices over the last thirty years, with the UK population also living longer, tying up wealth.  Families are often blended, with some relationships involving parents bringing together children in combinations of full siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings. This can require more thought and consideration as to how a person leaves their estates in a balanced way, ensuring their loved ones are protected and provided for on death.

Do It Yourself Wills

As a contentious probate practitioner, we have seen a trend in contested wills up to and following on from the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic seemed to cause people to reflect on their mortality and due to the restrictions and social distancing laws that were in place, many people turned to the internet or postal forms to make DIY wills as opposed to engaging a solicitor. 

DIY wills often involve an individual filling in standard form stating their wishes then executing the Will when many people’s affairs are not standard. These forms are completed without legal advice on the importance of the contents of the testamentary document or any other key advice, such as on Inheritance Tax planning. 

Reports suggest that in the period 2019-2021 there was a 37% increase in contentious probate disputes which caused a spike in cases such as this being litigated.  These figures do not reflect the number of disputes settled without going to trial.

So why are “Do It Yourself Wills” so problematic? 

There are a number of reasons why homemade Wills are problematic as follows:-

  • They are far more likely to be executed incorrectly – for a Will to be valid it must be signed by the person making the will (the testator) in the presence of two witnesses who must also then sign the Will in the presence of the testator. Examples we see include the testator signing and then taking a Will to two separate neighbours individually, none of whom has seen the others sign. This renders the Will invalid.
  • Some home-made Wills are inadvertently incomplete, the wording is ambiguous, or the testator does not actually deal with their entire estate. For example, it could be ill-advised to use terms such as “I leave all my money” or “I leave all my worldly goods” as two different people might construe money or worldly goods to mean two (or more) different things.  Ambiguity often leads to the Will not working in the way the testator intended, creating disputes. 
  • Home-made Wills can be more susceptible to challenge due to the fact the testator has simply not been advised by a professional on the implications of making the Will, leading to risk they have not actually understood what they have done; in other words they have not had full knowledge and approval of the terms of the document.
  • The capacity of a testator can be called into question when a Will is homemade or if they were unduly influenced to make it. For a Will to be valid the testator must have capacity to understand the implications of their Will and understand their estate. They must also make any disposition of their own free Will. When a Will is homemade, no professional has been able to assess the testator’s presentation, rationale and understanding; one could argue undue influence if a testator has been isolated from family and then made the Will whilst isolated by that person. This can often arouse the suspicion of the testator’s family and potentially the Court.

Many solicitors offer fixed fees for will-writing for simple instructions, up to a bespoke and specialist service for more complex estates or instructions. Although there will be legal fees for the drafting of a Will, these are pale in comparison to the legal costs of future litigation which can be tens of thousands of pounds. As a contentious probate specialist, my advice is to seek legal assistance in will-writing to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above. Doing so provides peace of mind for the testator and could save a lot of money, stress and upset for their family in the future.