It seems everyone wants to write our wills for us these days - solicitors, charities, will kit companies, online websites. So, is it legal write our own wills? It’s one of those ‘drinks party’ question I get asked a lot - and my reply is always… “Yes, you can, but no, you shouldn’t!”
Here are eleven reasons why getting professional help with writing your will is important to ensure your wishes are properly carried out.
1. A will is important
Your will is one of the most important documents in your life that doesn’t make any practical difference to your daily life. After all, when it is read, you will be dead. However, a properly drawn-up will can make a world of difference for everyone else you leave behind - spouse, children, grandchildren, business partners, friends. It also gives you peace of mind and the reassurance that you have ‘done right’ for those you leave behind.
2. Writing a will is not expensive
Yes, you can write it yourself for free, but how much is something free actually worth? Nothing. Considering its implications for your family’s wellbeing for years after your demise, the cost of making a will with professional advice and help is very low. At Panthera Estate Planning, we offer a free will review consultation to help you decide the best way to make a will. We’ll take you through any existing will you have, or advise what should be in a new will, based on your current circumstances.
3. You need to write it properly
Wills can be contested, which means a family member may disagree with what’s in your will and try to get it overturned in their favour. According to research conducted by Direct Line Life Insurance:
“Over 12.6 million people would be prepared to go to court to dispute a will of a family member if they disagreed with the division of their estate.”
The last thing you would want is for that to happen due to a mistake or technical error on your part.
4. You need witnesses
Wills must be witnessed to be valid, as you probably know from endless murder mysteries! There are strict rules over how wills must be signed, and this is a key area where DIY wills can be inadvertently invalidated. A professional company such as Panthera Estate Planning can act as independent witnesses who fully understand what they are signing, and make sure it is done correctly. During lockdown, we travelled to clients’ homes to ensure wills drawn up by us were properly witnessed and signed - even if we were on their driveway and leaning on their car bonnet at the time!
5. You need to be mentally capable
To write a will, you must understand the consequences of your will, and know what you are leaving to whom. This is known as being of ‘sound mind’. If a will is disputed, a court will need to decide if you were of sound mind when you created your will. Clearly, if it was drawn up and witnessed by professionals, this gives the court a reliable, independent source to call on and ask that question if required.
6. You need to write it the way you want it
The same applies to ‘undue influence’, which is where there is suspicion that you were coerced or pressurised into making a will with terms that you did not want included. Again, our team is totally independent and simply want your will to reflect your wishes and be as watertight as possible.
7. You need to protect your assets
Writing a will is one thing. Ensuring that people receive what you want them to receive is another, especially once the taxman gets involved. You can secure certain assets and ring-fence them for future generations using Trusts, or make tax-efficient gifts during your lifetime. By making your will with an estate planning company like us, you can combine discussions about your will and ways to make it as efficient as possible at the same time, if you wish.
8. You want your wishes to be crystal clear
If you have a large extended family, or a blended family, it can be difficult to make clear exactly what you want to happen. A Will Clarification document explains what you desire in more detail. It is attached to your will to help your executors ensure your wishes are fully carried out, and will help in the event of any contention of your will. You should keep your Will Clarification clear and simple. Many clients try to overcomplicate it because they want to cover everything. As an experienced will writer, I can help you simplify your wishes, so executors know exactly what to do.
9. You may not want everyone to inherit
Let’s be honest, not everyone in any family necessarily needs an equal share. If you want to differentiate between amounts given to children, or wish to exclude in-laws after marriage, then you may need to set up trusts and financial means to do this. Again, a professional estate planning service like Panthera can help with advice and action as required, based on a good understanding on your circumstances. No will kit or tick-box online form can ever do that.
10. You want a specific charity to benefit
Many charities are offering to write your will for free, in the hope that you will include a legacy to their charity as a result. The issue is that you have no idea of the level of expertise or advice they will offer in the process. Better by far to write your will with professional help and advice, and include a bequest or legacy to your charity of choice. The end result is the same - the charity gets some money - but the quality or integrity of your will is not affected.
11. You need to keep your will safe
A will that can’t be found after your death is no use to anyone. We’ve all heard tales of wills hidden in odd places in a house. A missing will causes so much stress to your relatives and executors at a time when they want just to do what you wanted. Most will-writing services like us offer a secure will storage option, particularly important if you are attaching a Will Clarity statement.
Making a will is not a big task, but a will is a big deal. When William Jennens died in 1798, he was probably the wealthiest man in Britain, worth an estimated £2million at the time. His will was in his jacket pocket when he died - but it wasn’t signed as he had left his spectacles at home when visiting his solicitors to execute the will. So, he died intestate.
As Jennens was not married and had no children, the wrangles over his estate lasted for 117 years, with the legal fees ultimately consuming all the money. The case was so famous that Charles Dickens put a fictionlised version, Jarndyce v Jarndyce, at the heart of his novel “Bleak House”.
Look at your will with Panthera Estate Planning
The moral of this story - wear your specs when you discuss your will with us here at Panthera Estate Planning! Your initial will review is free, and you can choose exactly how you want to proceed. Call us to book your online consultation, or to arrange a suitably socially distanced meeting if you prefer.