DIY Wills the cause for rise in inheritance disputes

01/07/2019
Author: Judith Bromley

New research carried out by insurance provider, Royal London has revealed that 54% of UK adults don’t have a will.

This is a scary statistic when you think about how many people have assets that are really worth something. The rise in house prices over the last decade alone have pushed the value of people’s estates higher and higher, making those who thought they had very little actually have quite a lot.

Although people are getting their affairs in order through the proper channels, others are turning to DIY wills to avoid the cost of using a solicitor. While they may be cheap, DIY wills only allow you to draft the most basic of wills and anything other than straightforward can cause problems.

Wills are official legal documents which need to be written in a certain way and contain the correct terminology. The law around probate is complex and if you aren’t familiar with the process, it’s easy to incorporate ambiguous wording which could be misinterpreted, or make a mistake that can invalidate the will altogether.

Modern family structures are changing and financial arrangements are becoming increasingly complicated, so it’s more important than ever to make sure your will is right. If it’s not, it could leave your loved ones in a legal minefield after your death or worse still, end up with family members falling out and settling disputes in court.

In fact, Royal London found that the number of inheritance disputes being heard by the High Court has risen by 59% in the last year. Although there are other underlying reasons, the increase has largely been attributed to the number of DIY wills being filed.

So, the moral of this tale is don’t leave it to chance; seek guidance from a solicitor. They’ll advise you of what you can and can’t do and point out things that you never even thought to consider so that you’re absolutely clear about the choices you’re making. A solicitor will ensure the will is legally binding rather than leaving it to fate like DIY wills all too often do. If you haven’t sorted out your will and you’re not sure what to do, here’s a list of some of the things to think about:

How much do you think your estate is worth?

Start by making a list of your all your assets. These will include your home or any property you own, savings, stocks and shares or premium bonds and don’t forget about any online accounts you may have. Include pensions, life insurance, endowments or policies that will pay out on your death.  

Next, list your physical assets. Your car or other vehicles you own should be noted, as should any jewellery, artwork, family heirlooms or antiques. What about other items? Televisions, music systems, gadgets etc. will all have a value whether that’s financial or sentimental, so don’t forget those.

Finally, outline your debts. Outstanding mortgages, loans, credit card balances, overdrafts or equity release plans will all need to be paid out of your estate so make it easy for those you leave behind by listing these.

Doing it for the kids

Nominate who you would like to care for your children if anything happens to you before they reach 18. Naming a guardian for your children means you get the choice of who looks after them rather than who the state thinks they should live with.

Who gets what

This is the bit that can cause all manner of fallouts. It’s entirely up to you who you leave money or possessions to, but it’s important to be absolutely clear about who you want to have them and what exactly it is you want them to have. And remember, it doesn’t just have to be your immediate family; it can be cousins, friends, organisations or charities, whoever you want.

Another thing to think about is who you would gift your inheritance to if the beneficiaries you originally choose die before you do. Also, if you do decide to leave money to a charity, make sure you include its full name, address and registered charity number within your will because without it, the charity may not be eligible for your gift.

Who’s going to do the honours?

Choosing your executor should never be under estimated. As long as they’re over 18, you can choose anyone to be your executor, but remember this is the person who’ll distribute your estate after you've died so make sure you choose someone who is capable as it can involve a lot of work and responsibility.

Validating your will

The will itself needs to be signed by you and two independent witnesses in each other’s presence. It’s worth noting that your witnesses can’t be a beneficiary of your will otherwise they’ll lose the right to their inheritance. This principle also applies to the witnesses’ spouses or civil partners. It’s also a good move not to ask an executor to be a witness.

If, for any reason, you can’t physically sign the will, it should be signed on your behalf with you present and contain an additional clause that you understand the contents of your will and that you’ve made your will voluntarily and without pressure from anyone else.

You can still draft your will if you have a degenerative mental illness like dementia, as long as you still have mental capacity. To do this you’ll need a clause within it confirming that you understand the contents of your will before it’s signed. You might also need a medical practitioner’s statement at the time the will is signed, certifying that you understand what you are signing.

Storing your will

First thing’s first, tell your executor where your will is. Of course, you can keep it yourself, but it’s advisable to leave it with your solicitor who can provide you with a copy for reference. When storing your will, make sure you don’t attach any documents to it because if paperclips or staples become separated from the will and leave marks, it could raise questions about whether the will is missing any parts or amendments.

Updating your will

If your circumstances change – you get married, divorced, have children etc. – you need to reflect this in your will. This can’t be stressed enough because if, for example, you’ve made provisions in your will for all or part of your estate to go to your children, and you remarry but don’t update your will, the laws of probate dictate that your estate will go to your new spouse. Once they die that estate will be passed on to their children, or whoever they’ve named as beneficiaries in their will, potentially bypassing your children altogether. Lastly, once you’ve updated your will, make sure you destroy any earlier versions to avoid confusion.

Despite the need to have a will many people avoid it, but the reality is that without a will you’ll die intestate which means it's the state that decides who inherits your assets, not you. A will is the only way to make sure your money, investments, property and possessions go to those who you want to benefit from them.

At Russell & Russell, we specialise in will writing. We’re accredited to the Law Society Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme, which sets the benchmark for best practice and transparency in setting up wills and estate planning. We offer a free, no obligation consultation so that you can decide what you want to do and what’s best for you.

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