DON’T DO IT YOURSELF!
May Bank holidays are always a popular time for doing a little DIY, with an extra day to finish off those odd jobs around the house. However, whilst a touch of painting or getting green fingered in the garden are tasks that we all like to try our hand at, some things are really best left to the professionals.
DIY Wills may seem a cheaper option than going to a Solicitor, but it can be a very risky approach with serious implications, leaving a financial and emotional mess for your family and a hefty legal bill incurred to put it all right.
Just because you have a document which you regard as your Will, unless it conforms to certain requirements it is not valid. Common mistakes can include misspelled names and failure to sign or date the Will correctly. Many people don’t realise that their Will must be signed in front of two independent witnesses – neither of whom can be a beneficiary – who should also sign it in front of you and each other. Problems can also arise if your circumstances change. If, for example, you get married any Will you have previously written will be automatically revoked, unless it stipulates that it has been written in contemplation of marriage. There are other requirements too, and it is all too common when someone dies for us to be presented with a piece of paper which we are told is the Will, but straightway we can see there is a problem. These issues also apply to Wills that can be purchased cheaply online after answering just a few questions or amending a template.
Obviously I’m biased, but it still astounds me that people try to save a few pounds drawing up what could be the most important document of their life. The irony is that trying to sort out the mess these Wills leave behind can end up costing far more than any money saved by not having the job done properly in the first place.
In addition, your loved ones could be left without the inheritance you had intended them to have. Take, for example, a widow who has a son and a daughter. The daughter is the widow’s main carer, living in a rented flat and working part time so that she can care for her mother. The son, although close to his mother, has a busy, well paid job and a family to look after, so sees his mother when he can.
To show her gratitude, in her home-made Will the widow leaves her house to her daughter and the rest of her estate (modest savings of a couple of thousand pounds) to her son. Sometime later her health deteriorates and she has to move into residential care and the house is sold to pay the care home fees. In due course she dies and, as the house has been sold, the daughter inherits nothing, which was obviously not her mother’s intention. If she had instructed a specialist Solicitor to draft her Will then it would have been worded in such a way that, should there be no house at the time of her death, the residuary estate would be divided between her daughter and son in percentages of her choice.
The fact is that we always know what we mean when we write something, but other people may put a completely different interpretation on what we have written and, if this happens in a Will, that ambiguity could easily result in a Court Action to decide what had been intended. Does the sound ‘ker-ching, ker-ching spring to mind? Court Actions have only one certain result – that the costs of the Action will be eye watering.
Ambiguous wording can be a real danger, as demonstrated at the opening of an RSPCA charity shop in Bury, Greater Manchester. It was rather unfortunate for the volunteers that there was no room on their sign to write ‘Helping Animals in Bury’- so they ended up with this…..
Definitely not what they meant!
If the ambiguous wording was in a Will drafted by a solicitor, the Court would be able to access the solicitor’s notes to see what had been intended, which would save a lot of time and expense. If the solicitor is later shown to be at fault, then their professional indemnity insurance would reimburse any loss to the estate.
My advice is never attempt to write a Will yourself. By instructing a specialist Solicitor, not only are you ensuring that everything is done in a legal manner but also that the Will is clear and unambiguous and all eventualities are thought through.
It is important not to confuse cost with value. Your Will is probably the most important document you will leave behind when you die, and you won’t be around to explain what you really meant.
SAMANTHA ANASTASIOU – SOLICITOR