Will writing made not-so-easy

by JamesBooker on November 27, 2014

making a will easyFor many of us, thinking about making a Will smacks of the biggest show of pessimism known to man – because we all believe we are going to live forever so why should we plan for our death.

And yet, in the back of most minds will be that little niggle about who would get your savings, who would get your house, who would get your prized collection of limited edition 1D memorabilia (no, really, some day they will be extremely valuable!) if the worst were to happen.

The bottom line is that most of us know in our heads that we should make a Will but our hearts stop us doing it because of some ill-conceived notion of “oh, it’ll be all right!”

Well, if you die intestate – without a Will – the state will decide who gets what from your estate (all your personal wealth and belongings) and if you had plans to give the 1D memorabilia to a charity for aging pop stars, without a properly drafted Will those posters, mugs and other assorted collectibles may go to someone who won’t actually appreciate them.

The trouble is that many of us don’t have a clue about where to start when thinking about writing a Will and going to a solicitor for Wills feels really daunting. Luckily, though, the internet holds loads of adverts and website details of thousands of places you can get a cheap Will done. Cushty!

Except that not all Will writing services are equal and some, especially those documents drafted by unqualified or unscrupulous practitioners could end up making your beneficiaries worse off than if no Will had been drafted at all.

According to STEP (the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) “cowboy Will writing” is a distinct problem in the UK. A survey of STEP members a few years ago showed that the most common problems in the Will writing and estate planning industry were:

  • Invalid Wills
  • False claims made by Will writers
  • The disappearance of Will-writing firms and the Wills they had in storage
  • Hidden fees
  • Fraudulent handling of estate administration

Of the STEP members questioned in the survey, 60% said that in the year prior to the survey they had “come across Will writers whose Wills were invalid due to basic mistakes”. More than 50% said they had come across Wills with two to six drafting errors.

These errors included witnessing problems, basic typing errors, errors in Trusts, incorrect use of standard clauses, and a lack of appropriate legal knowledge by the Will writer.

As someone who is thinking about making a Will – yes, I have been thinking about it now for two years and part of the reason I am writing this is to give myself a good kick up the ????– some of the things mentioned in the report are genuinely disturbing. Unregulated practitioners are telling consumers all sort of rubbish about Wills, Will writing and the inheritance and intestacy laws and regulations.

The report makes for grim reading.

And yet, if your you’ve got even a small amount of personal wealth – a house perhaps or a couple of cash ISAs – chances are you will want to protect it and make sure your loved ones get everything they can out of your estate.

Plus, in these days of the housing market boom, even ownership of a modest family home can mean that your estate may be liable for Inheritance Tax, so getting accurate information about IHT is essential to ensure your family don’t pay more tax than they have to when you die.

In the STEP survey 37% of respondents said they had come across cases where incompetence had led to “significant tax bills” – with problems ranging from failure to understand tax implications to basic errors and trust errors.

And yet, many people think that going to a qualified solicitor is going to be really difficult and costly. Walking into a solicitor’s office, for many of us, probably feels akin to walking into the dentist’s surgery (I really hate going to the dentist). However, in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of unregulated companies, having a strong internet presence, who will draft your Will for you, store it and then help your loved ones with estate administration (for a fee of course) on your death. You can often do this completely remotely, without the need ever to leave your home – or, in many cases, someone will visit you at home to help you draft your Will.

Sadly, not all firms stand the test of time and a number of the STEP survey respondents (64%) said that that they had come across cases where Wills had been written for families by a firm which had gone out of business, meaning that the Will disappeared.

This can be a desperate eventuality because the deceased probably thought they had covered everything and done their best for their family, but when the family finds the Will has gone it means they can be left in the limbo of intestacy.

And even if the company survives many families quickly find that there are problems with the Will and that these errors can mean that the document is deemed invalid.

So, how do you go about combating this?

Well, there’s a simple answer – go to an established, regulated solicitor.

Most solicitors’ firms are on the internet now, and you can do almost all your business with them via this medium – yes, lawyers can do email – and the cost is not nearly as exorbitant as you might expect (especially for basic Will drafting). If your estate is particularly high-value or complex, the cost may increase, but if this is the case then it is even more important that you instruct reputable, experienced solicitors who will be able to work with you to mitigate inheritance tax and to ensure your family’s best interests are maintained

All you need to do is search in your web browser for “estate planning solicitor” or “solicitor for Wills” and then put in your local area – Covent Garden perhaps – and up will pop a list of solicitors who can help you make sure your Will is drafted accurately and in accordance with your wishes.

Most private client solicitors are friendly and approachable and will be sensitive to the issues you are facing. So, when you’ve woken up to the fact that you might be denied the opportunity to enjoy eternal life, drop them an email and get some reliable help.

I’m off to do it now – aha – here’s my local lawyer – now all I have to do is work out who’s going to get all the 1D goodies. Hmmmmm!




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