Plenty of people tell you to make a will especially when you have children, they say, make a will before it’s too late so you can protect your family. However not many people tell you what you need to write and how to write it, so experts are now saying that a badly written will can be just as bad as no will at all.

Surely most people have a will?

Only 40% of us in the UK have a will and now research shows that 1 in 4 people who have made a will could end up giving their family a nightmare when they pass on. Engage Mutual has discovered that many people have already fallen out over a will.

Saga Legal Services commissioned a study which found that 25% of people wrote their will without any use of a legal professional, another 20% bought one from a shop or downloaded one online and a further 5% just wrote something on a piece of paper without any consideration or research. Of the ones that that did a will themselves around 37% thought that it was cheaper than hiring someone, 25% thought it would be quicker and 20% didn’t want anyone to know about their assets.

So why will this affect me?

If you have a small nuclear family with little assets and you have followed the instructions to the letter you may not have a problem and get a cheap and effective will after all. However if your family is more complicated, you have very specific wishes or if you have more to leave behind you may leave your family with a headache.

The research showed that one in fourteen people have had problems with a DIY will and out of these 46% have said that it led to family arguments while 39% said that it made probate take longer.

What are your options when making a Will?

DIY – it is a fact that more Wills fail or are challenged when they have been done by a well-meaning amateur – you know what you want to do, but can you interpret that onto paper so that the law also knows and understands what you want. In todays world of more complex families, higher divorce rate, more couples living together, same sex relationships, the list goes on, do you really know the ramifications when it comes to former spouses, children, step children and anyone who considers themselves dependent on you and the challenges that can be brought against your estate at a time when you are unable to argue back.

Use a professional – I’m not going into the where’s and why-for’s when it comes to whether using a solicitor is better than a professional Will Writer, simply that whoever you choose as a professional, ensure that they have the right qualifications and in the unlikely event of a complaint it will be dealt fairly and swiftly, i.e. they have the support and backing of a recognised body.

Using a professional Will Writer, ensures that the person who is attending to you, will know and understand your needs and have the necessary expertise to advise you properly on how your Will should look and how it will work, especially if your estate is complex – although few people believe theirs are as they start the conversation with “I only need a simple Will!”.

What are the mistakes that can be made?

Here are some of the most common mistakes that have caused family heartache:

Future planning

Most people writing their will don’t think about the future. For example if you want to leave something to your grandchildren, if you name them in the will and then one is born between you writing your will and you passing on, they will not receive anything unless you word it so that future grandchildren yet to be born are to be included.

Specifics

You could come unstuck if you start mentioning specific sums of money. You need to have a very good idea of how much you will have in your estate and that the value will not change much between you writing the will and your passing. If you have under estimated there may not be enough money in the pot to pay everyone the amount you want to give, if you have over estimated each person may received a much larger percentage of your estate than you thought that you were going to give to them.

‘I’s and ‘t’s

If you are not totally clear what you wish to happen, the there is a possibility that your request could be misinterpreted and your family may fall out due to ‘chinese whispers’.

There could be problems if you do not follow the strict rules for signing and witnessing the will it could become null and void so pretty much useless.

Appearance

This could be simply the way that the will has been put together. If it is not done up properly someone may claim that it has been tampered with, or there are pages missing. This may mean that it could take longer to go through probate.

What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen?

Get a professional to either go through the whole thing for you, or look over it once you have written it. Emma Myers who is Head of Wills, Probate and Lifetime Planning at Saga Legal Services says, “Having your DIY Will reviewed gives you piece of mind that is fit for purpose and gives you the chance to correct any mistakes before it’s too late.”

In the case where a Will is judged null and void the estate of the Will holder will be dealt with by the courts under the rules of Intestacy as if they had died without making a Will at all.

Intestacy Rules are very strict and the Government decides who inherits your estate in a specific order without any consideration for your wishes, starting with your spouse or civil partner, then:

  • Your children, grand children and any great grand children.
  • Any surviving parents
  • Brothers, sisters and/or their children
  • Half brothers, sisters and/or their children
  • Surviving Grandparents
  • Uncles, Aunts and/or their children
  • Half Uncles, Aunts and/or their children
  • The Crown or Duchy of Cornwall or Lancaster

The rules also give control of your estate to those who will immediately benefit from it, and that may be to people who you do not want included.

If your Will is deemed valid but some of the wording is wrong or unclear, then your loved ones will end up having to go to court and have them making the decision about how the estate is distributed rather than what was written in the Will.

Whatever way you wrote your Will, whether DIY or by a professional, it is important to review it regularly, especially if you or your family circumstances change, so that it still is valid and relevant for you.

There are also some actions you can take to help you make a Will that won’t be argued about or taken to court over and I’ll go through them here to help you, especially as according to Engage Mutual, 17% of families have already fallen out over a Will of some kind and I’m sure you don’t want to add to that percentage.

Conversations

When you start thinking about making a Will, it’s worth writing out what you wish to do and then talking to your family about your wishes so that they are aware and prepared for what your intentions are. It is here when you candidly tell your family why you want to spend some of their inheritance once you retire or why you are leaving more money to one than another because you have already given the other their share to buy a house last year. These conversations allow families to discuss any objections and sort them out before you even go to your solicitor to have the Will finally drawn up.

National Savings and Investments (NS&I) say that around 36% of people whose parents are still alive have no idea whether they have made a Will or not and what they intend to do with their estate.

Do it by the book

Ensure that when you come to write a Will that you follow the instructions to the letter. This stops anyone from saying to a court that the Will is incorrect or void because you were under influence when you wrote it or that no one witnessed your signature.

What makes a valid Will?

  • It needs to be in writing.
  • You must appoint an Executor who is someone that will carry out your wishes and distribute your estate properly.
  • It must be signed by you (you are called the Testator). If you cannot sign, it must be signed on your behalf in your presence and by your say so.
  • It must be witnessed by two individuals who must also sign at the same time and in the presence of you.

Witnesses:

  • A witness can be someone who is ages 18 or over, is not blind and is capable of understanding what is going on and what the consequences are of what they are doing.
  • You cannot have a witness who would be a beneficiary of the Will or is married to or is the civil partner of a beneficiary in these cases the beneficiaries would not get their share but the Will would still remain valid.

Don’t rush anything

The saddest thing about Wills is that they can become a tool to use for family members to take revenge or over-power siblings or other family members and that can lead to terrible family breakups. Engage Mutual have stated that 3.5 million people in the UK have changed their Will within the last 2 years and the most common reason is family arguments.

People are starting to anticipate arguments over who should get more and around 15% of people are worried that these problems will come from them leaving some money to friends rather than family.

In this instance it’s worth having the conversation now and seeing if you can explain why you are making the decisions you are and whether you can even things up a bit.

So in a nutshell, it’s worth getting some advice from a professional even if you want to do things yourself to save money as you could be leaving your loved ones with a battle on their hands if you get something wrong. If you think about the assets you are leaving to your loved ones, paying a small fee for a professional Will is not a lot in comparison.

If you are worried about your will or need advice around creating one – speak to a financial adviser who can make sure it meets the criteria required.  Prices start from just £98.00.