Maybe a solicitor has quoted you a few hundred pounds to prepare your Will. Perhaps you are now considering whether you can write your own Will. You may be wondering “how hard can it be?”.
It’s entirely possible to write your own Will, but let us give you a few pointers.
Estate planning (the process of writing a Will) can be daunting. Many of us are prone to common, easily-avoided mistakes, if we get around to our Will at all. In fact, according to a report by the Legal services board, even solicitors who don’t specialise in estate planning frequently make mistakes with Wills.
The Law Society express concern that do-it-yourself Will services were eroding the Will writing business. They asked the government to protect Will writing. To make it a service that only solicitors can provide.
The government conducted a mystery shopper exercise through the Legal Services Board to review the quality of Wills being produced. Their final report made interesting reading.
In total, one in four wills were failed. Furthermore, just over one-third of all assessments had a rating of poor or very poor. Solicitors were more likely to be failed on simple wills and will-writing companies were more likely to be failed on complex wills. This is a disappointing set of results. The findings for solicitors and will-writing companies were identical – each getting around one in five fails.
The recommendation coming from this investigation was that there was no basis to make the industry of Will writing a protected profession. Nor make it the exclusive domain of solicitors. Of course, the Law Society wasn’t happy with the decision!
With no difference in the quality of the Wills, customer satisfaction and price become significant considerations. The report found that customer satisfaction for online services was every bit as high as it was for solicitors and will writing services. But of course, the price was much lower.
If you are considering the “write your own Will” approach, here are some things to consider.
Ten common errors people make with their Last Will and Testament
1: You want to write your own Will, but you don’t get started.
There are many reasons why you may not start your Last Will and Testament. You may assume that it is a demanding, difficult, and expensive process. This absolutely doesn’t have to be the case. You might decide not to write your own Will because you consider the topic of death to be rather morbid. While this is understandable, you are not really writing your Will for you, you are taking the time to prepare your Will out of consideration for your family and loved ones. As well as any people or charities who stand to benefit from your assets. Dying without a Will (intestate) unnecessarily adds complications during what will already be a difficult period of transition.
2: Overpaying for your Will
Unless you have a very complicated estate, you should never have to pay more than about £50 for a Will. Sadly, people routinely pay hundreds or even thousands of pounds for basic advice and small alterations to copies of generic Wills. This naturally leads people to procrastinate, and consequently, most adults don’t have a Will in place. Services like LegalWills.co.uk are more flexible, easier to rewrite or edit, and are many times cheaper than the traditional appointment with a solicitor.
3: Underpaying for your Will
Some services online allow you to write your own Will for free through their so-called “free Wills” service. On the surface, this may seem like a wise choice; unfortunately, nothing is truly free. Just hosting a website is expensive and incurs costs. Sites that offer free Wills may try to stay afloat by selling your information to insurance companies, advertisers, and so on. Furthermore, free sites will not be able to provide support if you run into difficulty.
Other websites offer a free Will service, but still ask you to enter your credit card details. We prefer to be upfront about our pricing. It’s £24.95 to write your own Will with LegalWills.co.uk.
4: Making assumptions about your family and relationships
You probably think that your family members will be able to harmoniously co-exist after you pass. You naturally assume that dying and bequeathing gifts will not create any particular personal complications.
Unfortunately, the probate process can bring the worst out in people. It is sadly very common for children, step-children, spouses, and others can be divided unnecessarily as they pursue their own interests. There are many solutions to specific family problems, but the most basic solution is to have a well-written and thoughtfully composed Will. Having clear intentions and leaving no legal ambiguity will clear up most issues before they even begin.
5: Making assumptions about the law
We all do it, even solicitors. Unfortunately, making assumptions about the law can be particularly disastrous regarding Wills. But you won’t be around to clear up the confusion and make important changes as needed. The most basic assumption that people make about the law is that their estate is not complex enough to warrant having a Will.
You may think that the courts will distribute your property to your spouse and that it will all go smoothly even if you don’t have a Will. Unfortunately, in the UK, depending on the size of your estate and whether you have children, your spouse will probably not receive everything.
6: Not covering guardianship of your children
This one is particularly important if you have young children. By not appointing a guardian, you risk leaving your family and the courts an ambiguous and potentially painful custody situation. By appointing a suitable person for the family, you can ensure that their children have an appropriate and loving guardian presiding over a safe and happy home. The only way you can name a guardian for your children it through your Will.
7: Attempting to list all of your assets
One of the most common ways to trip up when you write your own Will is attempting to list everything you own in your Will. There is no need to do this, and it doesn’t work as a strategy.
You have to remember that you are not writing a Will that is going to come into effect today. Hopefully, it won’t come into effect any time soon – the document should last you many years unless your circumstances change. If you are too specific about your assets, you will be forced to update your Will every time you buy or sell something, or every time you open or close a bank account.
When you write your own Will, you can certainly leave specific bequests. For example, you can leave a special piece of jewelry to your favourite niece, or leave £1,000 to a local charity. But the rest of your assets become the “residual” estate. This is everything that you have not left as a specific bequest.
Typically, you would then leave your residual estate to a single beneficiary, or you would divide it between a number of beneficiaries. Your Will would say something like;
“Divide my entire residual estate equally between my three children”
It would then be the responsibility of your Executor to gather up whatever happens to be your entire estate at the time of administration.
You can help your Executor tremendously by documenting your assets, but you shouldn’t list them in your Will. In fact, we have an Executor handbook service called LifeLocker, that allows you to document all of your important information. You can update it over time, and it is made available to your Executor when they need it.
8: Forgetting some of your important assets
People often forget to include assets that, for whatever reason, you may assume that they not relevant to your Will. We’ve written before about your digital assets, and how they include social, sentimental, and financial assets. You should distribute these thoughtfully rather than lump them in with the rest of the estate. In many Wills they end up being forgotten altogether.
Social assets are primarily digital and include things like access to social media accounts, electronic passwords, and so on. Sentimental assets can include digital assets like cloud-stored family photos to things like scrapbooks, heirlooms and family histories. You should consider everything from online accounts with associated monetary value to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin along with other, more traditional, financial assets like stocks or bank accounts.
You should also make sure that your pets have a home, no matter what.
Although Wills can be simple documents written in equally simple language, nagging technicalities can turn an otherwise sound Will into a useless document. Make sure that your witnesses are eligible, that you properly sign and date your Will, and that you use correct names throughout. In addition to those legal stumbling blocks, make sure that you correctly account for your assets. Including an asset that you do not have legal ownership of at the time of your death, can play havoc with your Will.
One of the most common errors is distributing assets between children where one child receives your share of the house and the other receives a financial equivalent. But if your house is jointly owned in “joint tenancy” then it will automatically pass to the joint owner. It doesn’t even form part of your estate. Consequently, one child would receive nothing.
9: Not updating your Will frequently enough
This error is very common when you consider that most people overpay for their Will. You may not be in a position where it is convenient or even financially feasible to regularly revise your Will. Fortunately, on LegalWills.co.uk, you can edit and reprint your Will in minutes.
This is especially important when you consider all the possible alterations you may need to make. Some are more obvious than others. It might be hard to forget to consider the birth of a child, a change in residence, marriage, or divorce. Others are more difficult to keep track of, like the state of your assets, the proper names of those in your Will, or the changing circumstances of your beneficiaries or key appointments.
Supposing your alternate Executor is no longer willing or able to serve. If you had prepared your Will with a solicitor would you take the time and pay to update your Will? probably not. But with an online service, you not only write your own Will, but you update it whenever you need to make even the most subtle edit.
10: Confusing laws across different countries
There is a lot of legal and estate planning advice on the internet. However, most people write about US Law. There are many countries, territories, states, and provinces with differing estate laws. Whilst it can still be useful to read about what other strategies people in other jurisdictions use around estate issues, you have to ultimately ensure that your plan complies with the laws of England and Wales. A quick look on Amazon.co.uk for Will kits shows some that are woefully out of date, (seriously? published in 1991 !!) and others that are written under US law. But it is quite likely that UK residents are buying these kits, and subsequently making legally invalid Wills.
But you can definitely write your own Will
It really isn’t difficult to write your own Will. Using an online interactive service like the one at LegalWills.co.uk allows you to write your Last Will and Testament in about 20 minutes. If your situation is complicated, you may benefit from receiving some legal advice from a solicitor. But the power and flexibility of our service will probably surprise you.
The nice thing about our service is that you can try it, without any kind of commitment. If you don’t like the finished product, let us know and we’ll refund your payment. No hassle, we just do it.
He has over 19 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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