Every single adult should have a Will in place, but most do not. If you are reading this, you may have given some thought to writing a Will, but not sure how to get started. You have seen different approaches to writing a Will, but you are not sure which services offer a quality, affordable Will writing service, without questionable extras. Hopefully this overview will help you take the next step.
Why you need a Will.
A Will allows you to describe the distribution of your estate. It puts somebody in charge of the process, and it allows you to do things like name a guardian for your children, make charitable bequests and set up trusts.
If you die without a Will, the courts take over. Your family and loved ones will have to work their way through a court process that will eventually do the work of your Will, but probably not the way you would have wanted.
The courts will put somebody in charge of the process. Hopefully this is somebody with the administrative skills needed, and a person who has a good rapport with your family and your beneficiaries. They are going to have to work with the people you have left behind to distribute everything you own according to a legal formula. In the meantime your assets will be frozen.
Then your assets will likely be liquidated and divided according to the laws of “intestate succession”. If you are married without children, then it is possible that your intended distribution plan would match the intestate succession plan. But in almost every other case, your assets will be divided in a very strange way.
You will have also missed an opportunity to do something meaningful in your Will.
Recently Aretha Franklin died without a Will, leaving a huge pile of money to be fought over in the court system. Like Prince before her, they missed an opportunity to set up a foundation, a trust, a charity, a scholarship, and to put something back into the community.
You may not have millions of pounds, but you can still make a massive difference by leaving just one percent of your “estate” to a charity. Your beneficiaries will barely notice, but it can be a significant contribution to a charity or organisation that has impacted your own life.
Writing a Will puts the destination of your hard earned assets into your hands, and out of the courts. It also significantly speeds up the process of resolving your estate. Assets are passed onto the beneficiaries in a more expedient manner, and less money is spent on solicitors fees. Two years after Prince’s death, nobody has received a penny out of his estate.
You should write a Will.
Why you probably don’t have a Will.
Put simply, most British adults don’t have a Will. The statistics suggest that it’s anywhere from 55 to 70 percent of UK adults who do not have an up-to-date Will. So why would so many people choose not to write their Will?
Writing a Will is traditionally not a very convenient process. It used to involve making an appointment with a solicitor, and potentially making follow-up appointments to review the documents that were prepared by the Will writer. If you are a professional couple, you would likely have to arrange to both meet with the solicitor together, both booking time off work, and possibly even making arrangements for the care of young children while you do this.
Then if there was an update needed to the Will, you would have to go through the whole rigmarole again. Even if the update was a relatively minor one.
Imagine if you had prepared your Will and then a week after, you realised that you wanted to give some money to your local church in your Will. You cannot simply handwrite a new legacy into your Will. You would need to make another appointment, take more time off work, and potentially pay more money (solicitors rarely do anything for nothing), and have a new Will prepared.
Then heaven forbid, you hear that your backup Executor has been taken ill. I’m quite sure you wouldn’t go through the aggravating process again. You would probably just make do with a Will that wasn’t quite right.
Traditionally, writing a Will has been an expensive business. Highly paid solicitors charge anything from £500 and beyond to write a Will. It’s a difficult price to justify unless your situation demands custom clauses to be written and some clever legal angles that are only understood by a highly trained solicitor.
Most Wills however are quite straightforward “everything to my spouse, and if we are both involved in an accident, then everything to be divided between our children”. Even with trusts for young beneficiaries, guardianship clauses, lifetime interest trusts, charitable bequests and other elements, the document is still a very simple Last Will and Testament, and it will be written using software available to every solicitor. The solicitor will plug your information into the software and it compiles established “legal precedents” (known clauses) to create your Will.
It’s not good value at £500. In fact most solicitors have somebody in the office put the document together, and they just check it.
Unfortunately, because Wills have always been so expensive, people delay the writing of the Will until some time in the future when they know it won’t need to be updated. Will writing has become a “once-in-a-lifetime” task. This means that half of UK adults die without a Will in place.
One key assumption that causes many people to not write a Will is a complete fallacy “it is obvious what will happen to me things after I am gone. Everything will go to my spouse”.
In fact, if you are married with children, this is simply wrong. Your possessions will likely be divided between your spouse and children. But equally important is the process that you are leaving for your loved ones.
To start with, you have not named an Executor, which means that nobody is in charge. Maybe your spouse will take the reins and sort out your estate, but it’s possible that by the time you die, your spouse may be elderly. They will certainly be grieving. Is this really the best choice of person to saddle with the administration of your bank accounts, investments and tax filings?
Maybe one of your children would be able to step up. Maybe your children don’t get along so they will both want to take on the responsibility of estate administrator. Or worse, maybe neither of them want to do it.
In short, dying without a Will has left your family with nobody in charge. Somebody will eventually be appointed estate administrator by the courts, but until this time, all assets are frozen and nobody can touch a penny. Not even your spouse.
Even if the final distribution of your estate is the same whether or not you have a Will (which it probably isn’t), the process is absolutely not the same.
Not having enough assets
“I don’t need a Will, I have nothing to leave to anybody, just a few pounds in my bank account”
It is easy to forget that you are probably not writing your Will with a view to dying this afternoon. Your Will is going to come into effect some time in the future, and you have no idea what your financial situation will be when your Will comes into effect.
Let us take a hypothetical example, even if you were to die tomorrow. Let us imagine, that you were hit by a bus.
But it turns out that the bus driver was texting, he just didn’t see you crossing the road. The bus company and the driver were both held liable for your death. They were fined heavily and your estate were awarded £5 million by the courts as a message to all other bus companies.
Suddenly, your estate is worth £5 million, a figure that you were never close to being worth whilst you were alive.
Just not getting around to it
We are all busy. Our lives are generally full, and every day has a to-do list. Writing your Will may get onto the list, but typically something significant has to happen to push it to the top of the list.
This is why at LegalWills.co.uk we have tried to make the process as convenient as possible. You can sit on an iPad with your feet up on the sofa and write your Will. You don’t have to clear a whole afternoon.
Using our service you can also just get started and then save your work up to that point. Most people find that once they start they quickly move through the service and complete their Will, but there may be certain questions that necessitate a consultation with friends and family; like naming a guardian for children. No problem. You can return tomorrow and pick up from where you left off.
This is one of the most confusing parts of the Will writing process.
A Will can be free. A Will can cost you £1,000. What is the difference? and how much should you pay?
A free Will is probably a bad idea. No Will writing service can be free without there being a cost. As far as we are aware, there is no benevolent solicitor out there offering something for nothing. There are 3 ways in which a Will can be offered at no cost
- It’s not a very good Will, not prepared by somebody with legal training and it probably won’t work
- It seems free, but it’s a “free trial” and there are hidden costs like an ongoing subscription cost or spurious fees like “storage”
- The Will itself is free, but your information may be sold off to other companies like insurance services, or funeral homes. You will find yourself being cold-called from services with quite a lot of information about you.
In general stay clear of free Will writing services.
But at the other end of the spectrum, you can easily overpay for a Will writing service if the person writing it expects to be paid £1,000 an hour. If this is their going rate, then this is what you will pay for a Will, even if your Will does not demand this level of expertise and training.
This is the service offered by a leading solicitor in London:
For £500 they will write your Will based on a 15 minute phone call. A 30 minute telephone call is their platinum package and costs much more.
Somewhere in the middle, between free Will writing options, and expensive solicitors, are companies offering a quality Will writing service at a price that is within reach for most of us.
Options for writing a Will.
Using a solicitor
This is the traditional approach to Will writing. You decide that you need a Will, you lookup a local solicitor, and then go to their office (with your spouse or partner if appropriate) where you will work through your plans for your estate. The solicitor will then draw up your Will.
You may have to return at a later date and review this document. It will then be signed, your solicitor will serve as the witness to the signing, and they may then keep the document in their own vaults for safe-keeping.
The whole process is slow, expensive and inconvenient.
If you need to update your Will you would have to go through the whole process again. In fact, you probably won’t bother unless the update that you need is significant.
You also have to hope that you have a good enough relationship with your solicitor that they will know if you pass away. We receive calls every day that are a variation of
“My father just died, I know he wrote his Will with a solicitor in London, but I don’t know which one. How can I find his Will?”
The answer is that this Will is likely to be lost forever.
Using a “Will writer”
Some types of legal activities, known as “reserved legal activities”, may be carried out only
by regulated legal professionals, such as solicitors and barristers. However, other legal
advice, including will writing, may be delivered by people who are not regulated.
There is absolutely nothing that legally stops anybody from setting themselves up as a Will writer in the UK. It is not a protected profession. Anybody can do it.
A few years ago, the Law Society petitioned the government to protect Will writing and make it illegal for anybody other than a trained solicitor to write Wills.
As a result of this request, the “Legal Services Board” ran a Legal Services Consumer Panel that conducted a mystery shopper exercise. Using Will writing services from solicitors, online will writing services, and will writing companies. The conclusion from this study was that there were mistakes made across the board, and that the quality of Will writing was no better from a solicitor as it was through any other Will writing service. They concluded that making Will writing the exclusive domain of solicitors did not benefit the public in any way.
This is why when you go to a shopping centre, you may be accosted by a Will Writing company. You may even receive phone calls from aggressive salespeople invited you to use their service to write a Will.
Will writers are typically the most competitive with their cold-calling and customer solicitation. But they may or may not be qualified to write Wills. This is the Will writing service most likely to try to up-sell you on questionable extras that we describe below.
This is an actual letter that we acquired. Written to a Will Writer
The blank form Will kit
This is the cheapest approach to Will writing, but often you are working with something marginally better than a blank piece of paper.
This is actually a Will kit that we purchased for £14.95. It is literally a blank piece of paper, that says at the top “I give the following legacies”
There are a couple of obvious problems with this type of kit. Firstly, you may attempt to list everything you own on a blank sheet of paper like this. However, you are probably not going to die today, the Will is going to come into effect at some unknown time in the future. So what will happen to all of the things that you accumulate that don’t appear in your Will?
And there is usually no contingency plan written into a Will kit. What happens if your first choice beneficiary dies before you, or you are involved in a common accident? then what will happen to your estate.
It is technically possible to write a legal Last Will and Testament using a blank form Will kit. But it is actually the most difficult approach to writing a well drafted Will.
An online Will writing service
For many years, there wasn’t really any will writing service sitting between the expensive solicitor, and the cheap, ineffective blank form Will kit. But about ten years ago, companies started to appear that offered an interactive software approach to Will writing.
Some, like LegalWills.co.uk adapted the software used by solicitors, to make it accessible to a layperson. By asking questions in a conversational way, anybody could create a Will that looks word-for-word identical to one prepared by a solicitor, but created from the comfort of your home, at a fraction of the price.
Putting the software online also made it much easier to update a Will. Over the years added value services started to appear, like vaults to upload documents, the ability to prepare an inventory of information for your Executor, the ability to document funeral wishes, and even write messages to loved ones. All vital services that are not currently being offered by solicitors or blank Will kits.
Warning signs from a Will writing service.
So what should you look for when evaluating a Will writing service?
There are a few warning signs that should make you head straight for the exit.
A free Will service
As we noted above. A service is never free. If you don’t pay a clearly posted price for your Last Will and Testament, then you will be paying in some other way. Often this is with your data being sold to other companies who will in turn try to sell you something. Alternatively, it can be ongoing subscription costs, or questionable services like “storage” or “registration”. If the service provider is not using your data, and not taking any money from you, then they are not paying for a development, legal or support team. This would be reason enough to walk away.
Appointing themselves as Executor
You will find this happening across all services providers; solicitors, will-writers and even online will writing services.
There are even some service providers who REQUIRE you to appoint the Will writing service as the Executor; a company called nine minute will don’t even ask, they just insert themselves as the Executor. Other’s like SimpleWills.net require you to check a box to deselect them from being the Executor. It’s a very, very shady practice because they know that many people won’t check this box, and they will make 2.5 percent of the total value of your estate. If you own a house, they will be making thousands of pounds from your estate. Just because you didn’t check the box.
Many solicitors will tell you that probate is complicated, and that they should be appointed the Executor. But an exposé by the Guardian newspaper revealed that it’s complete rip-off. Solicitors charge not only a percentage of the estate, but also an hourly rate, and then “costs” for each letter and email.
Probate may or may not be complicated, but the best approach is to appoint a family member who can then bring in expertise as and when it is needed. The professional is then paid their hourly rate, and not a percentage of the estate.
There is a very popular online Will writing services that offers a “free Will”. The curious thing is that you need to give them a credit card number. You then have to call to cancel the service within 14 days otherwise you will incur a monthly charge.
“No problem” you say, I’ll get it for free and cancel. But they don’t make it easy. People report to being put on hold for an hour. The agent tells them it’s been cancelled, and then the charge appears on next month’s credit card statement, so you go through the whole process again. And again.
Watch out for any company that requires you to cancel a service to avoid being billed on a monthly basis.
What to look for in a Will writing service.
I expect to see the price for a Will on the company’s home page, or at least one click away from the home page, on a page called “prices”. This includes websites for solicitors. Even if they don’t know for certain the complexity of your situation, they should be able to provide a rough estimate.
Too many a Will writing service requires you to step through a series of questions, create an account, and then tell you the pricing when you try to download your completed document. Many of these services entice you in with the promise of something free.
The business strategy here is to encourage you to invest time entering your information. If you’ve already spent an hour working on your Will, you won’t want to start again, so you may as well pay the £25 to get the document. After all, you are so close to finally getting this task off your to-do list.
However, it’s an immoral practice which is why we clearly price our Last Will and Testament service at £24.95 with no ongoing subscription to cancel.
Optional value added services
Writing your Will is a very important step, but only one part of the overall puzzle of getting your assets passed onto the right people. Your Executor has to identify, locate, gather and secure your assets before they can be distributed.
If something were to happen to you today, would your Executor have all of the information that they need to administer your estate?
If you appointed a solicitor to be your Executor, would they be able to gather and secure all of your assets?
What about your “digital assets”? all of your online accounts that need to be managed, transferred or closed down?
LegalWills.co.uk has spent years developing services to address these issues. We started with our MyKeyholder service that gave trusted individuals access to key documents within your account. We then developed the MyMessages service that allows you to prepare messages to be distributed after you pass away.
More recently we developed our MyLifeLocker service that lets you document all of your assets, online accounts, subscriptions, memberships, utilities, and everything else that your Executor will need access to. It even includes an address book of everybody to be contacted.
Finally we created the MyVault service that allows you to upload important documents for your Executor. This could be an unfinished novel, a spreadsheet of passwords, even family recipes or photos. Or an audio file with some important instructions.
If you are looking for a Will writing service, see what else they give you other than a 4 page document called your Last Will and Testament.
Will writing services come and go. But it is important to know that the company has been around for a while. This demonstrates that their Wills actually work! For example, LegalWills.co.uk has been offering the service for over a decade, and helped tens of thousands of people prepare their Wills.
Many people wrote their Will knowing that they had a terminal illness, and sadly, many people who have used our service, subsequently passed away.
We have never once heard of there being an issue with one our Wills going through the probate process. Conversely, we have heard from many loved ones and family members who have taken our Wills through the court process. They made a point of thanking us for the convenience and affordability of our service.
A new online Will writing service appeared in the last couple of months and the user experience was slick and flashy. However, we tried it out and we were horrified to see typographical errors in the Will. Perhaps they outsourced their development, because the final Wills were filled with errors.
It is important to know that if you have questions, you can contact the Will writing service provider. At LegalWills.co.uk we have a phone number, email address and live text chat. We have a team in place that have each worked with us for over ten years. Our customer support is entirely free of charge, and we generally answer any questions in a polite, informative way. We do not outsource our support, and it is primarily this team that is responsible for our 4.9 star google review rating.
Do not work with a Will writing service that charges for answering questions. You should not use a service provider that cannot answer your questions promptly, clearly and effectively through any support channel of your choosing; phone, email and live text chat.
What do other people say about the service? It is important to look for third party independent reviews from verified purchases.
At LegalWills.co.uk we use Facebook reviews and Google Reviews. Both of these are difficult to manipulate, and Google in particular would be a very risky review system to “game”. If Google know that you are trying to cheat their review system, you can be sent to the back of Google, which for an online business means that you crease to exist.
Money back guarantees
It is possible that after trying a Will service and downloading your Will, you find that it just doesn’t quite fit your needs. We know that there are some circumstances not well suited to LegalWills.co.uk, for example, trying to make provisions for a child who will need constant care for the rest of their life. You need to set up a special kind of trust for that child, and it’s just something that our service cannot currently do.
This is why we offer a full, 30-day money back guarantee. No questions asked. We don’t mind offering this, because less than one percent of our customers ask for a full refund. We feel it is worth it to offer that peace of mind.
Always ask about the refund policy and “change of mind” policy. This is not just for online Will writing services like ours, but also for solicitors, and Will writers. I’m not sure how forthcoming solicitors are with a refund if you change your mind.
Additional services worth paying for, and services not worth paying for.
Will writing services often make their money from the “extras”. Here are a list of extras that are worth paying for, and the extras that we believe are a money grab.
Worth paying for
Ability to update your document over time:
Writing a Will is not a once-in-a-lifetime activity. There are many reasons why you may want to update your Will to reflect changes in your personal or financial circumstances.
You may become aware of the great work of a charity, and want to include that organisation as a beneficiary in your Will.
Your alternate Executor may have been taken ill, and you need to name a new backup Executor.
The guardians for your children may have had triplets of their own, and may no longer be the best choice for your own children.
The list is endless. But a Will writing service must make the process of updating your Will convenient and affordable. We have heard of solicitors charging upwards of £100 per update to a Will. This is simply unfair.
Documenting your Funeral wishes
You shouldn’t include your funeral wishes in your Will. Your Last Will and Testament has to go through a formal court process before it is accepted as a legal document, by which time, your funeral will have already taken place.
In addition, your funeral wishes do not have the same legal weight as your Will. They are simply an expression of your wishes, that you hope will be respected by your family and loved ones. But they are your wishes, and a very different document to your legal Last Will and Testament.
At LegalWills.co.uk we offer a completely free MyFuneral service that allows you to describe your funeral wishes. This document can then be stored with your Will.
LifeLocker type services
As previously described, it is important to give your Executor all of the information that they need to administer your estate. Your Will is likely going to say something like
“leave my entire estate to my wife, Jane”
“Leave £5,000 to Cancer Research, and then divide the remainder between my three children”.
Your Executor has to find everything that you own, gather your assets and then secure them. This includes bank accounts, investments, and even online accounts (sometimes called “digital assets).
Earlier this year, the Financial Times reported that the government was going to seize Millions on pounds held in dormant bank accounts. Most of these belong to people who have died, and their Executor had no knowledge that the account existed.
At LegalWills.co.uk we provide services to ensure that your assets are not lost. Including MyLifeLocker, MyKeyholders, MyVault and MyMessages. Together, these services get the right information to the right people at the right time, and not before.
Look for a Will writing service that adds value to your planning, beyond a simple 4 page Last Will and Testament document.
Not worth paying for
Many Will writing service providers offer the core Will writing at a discounted rate in order to make money from add-ons that offer questionable value. There are many of these, but three obvious service “up-sells” should be avoided at all costs.
Power of Attorney services
In order for a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to be accepted as a legal document, it must be registered with the government. It currently costs £82 to register an LPA, and there is absolutely no way to avoid this (this cost seems to change every month, so by the time you read this, it may be different).
But some Will writing service providers offer the creation of a Lasting Power of Attorney, and charge money to create the document over and above the cost of registration. This is a scam. You can create your own LPA using the online tool provided by the government at no cost whatsoever. Just go to the government website and step through their tool.
One of the most important steps in writing a Will is making sure that your Executor has access to it when they need it. The most effective way of doing this is to give the document to your Executor in a sealed envelope and say “this is my Last Will and Testament, please keep it somewhere safe”. If something were to happen to you, your Executor hopefully knows you well enough to know that you have died, and they have to work with your Will.
A monthly or annual fee for storing a Will is a waste of money. Your loved ones need the Will, so they would need to know where the document is stored, and then prove their identity, and usually pay to have the document retrieved.
This service also creates a barrier to updating your Will. If you want to add a charitable bequest to your Will, you will probably not bother because of the hassle of updating the stored Will.
It is all unnecessary expense for very little value. But a lucrative side business for Will writers.
Similar to Will storage is the idea of “Will Registration” or using a “Will Registry”. To be clear, there is no government body that registers the Wills of people who are still alive. Your Will is registered after you pass away, when it goes through the probate process. Whilst you are alive, the document is yours for safe-keeping to be updated throughout your life.
Some enterprising businesses have set themselves up as the “official” Will registry. In principle it’s a decent idea. Loved ones often have a difficult time finding the Will of a deceased family member, but only a tiny fraction of Wills are registered with these companies, and it requires your loved ones to initiate a search (usually for a fee). There is little value to using this service over simply giving the document to your Executor.
A final conclusion
The first conclusion is that you should write your Will.
You then have four broad approaches to writing your Will.
If you decide to capitalise on the convenience and affordability of an online Will writing service, keep in mind our tips for choosing the best service providers. And be very careful of paying for things you don’t need.
Finally, take a look at our Last Will and Testament service. You can create your Will in just 20 minutes for £24.95. And we offer help every step of the way.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of LegalWills.co.uk.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets and has contributed to articles in most leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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