Templates for DIY Wills are easy to find in well-known stationary shops and on the internet, but it’s not always a good idea to write your Will yourself.
In theory, a Will could be valid and legally binding if it were scribbled on the back of a napkin, but it doesn’t mean that this is how everyone should write their Will. Remember that your Will is the only guidance left on your death which will ultimately determine the allocation of all your possessions and money which you have worked for during your lifetime. Absolute clarity is required in a Will to ensure that on your death your instructions are carried out to the letter. Using the wrong wording could mean that your intentions aren’t followed, or even that your Will isn’t valid.
Max, 36, buys a Will pack from a stationary store in town. He believes his Will is going to be easy to write and that it will save him a lot of money. Max has no partner, no children and has not spoken to his parents in years due to an argument. Max therefore wishes all of his estate (assets and money) to be left to his best friend Jack. The template states ‘I wish to give my entire estate to…”. In the space provided Max writes ‘Jack Smith’. He then signs the will and puts it in his office drawer. Max dies aged 42 having not updated his Will since. On Max’s death and upon discovery of the Will major problems arise:
- Max’s Will has not been witnessed; for a Will to be valid it must be witnessed by two individuals who are not beneficially entitled under the Will. Max did not know this at the time of writing his Will as the template had not provided any guidance or space in the template for witnesses to sign. Max’s Will is therefore invalid and his estate will pass through the intestacy rules.
- Because Max’s estate will now pass through the intestacy rules, Jack will have no claim to Max’s estate. In fact, despite Max not having spoken to his parents in years, his estate will pass entirely to them as he has no spouse, children or siblings.
- Furthermore, even if Max’s Will had been valid, Max has not defined who Jack Smith is, there is no address to help identity to this person. With a common name like Jack Smith, it is possible that another ‘Jack Smith’ could claim to be the person entitled.
The example gives some of the most common and simple mistakes that can be made when writing your own Will but in practice there are many more pitfalls which can have serious repercussions for the beneficiaries of your estate after your death. Writing a Will may seem like a simple task when you have a shop-bought template to follow, but there are many factors which a template cannot accommodate. You also need to know about the tax implications of your Will, and the implications of any potential claims that might be made against your estate, and how you can take steps to minimise such risks.
It is always best to speak with a solicitor about your personal circumstances and have them draft your will to your requirements. Once completed, your Will can then be properly executed, that is signed by yourself and two individual witnesses and dated. It should then be stored in a safe place and kept under regular review.
For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact a member of our Wills and Probate Team on 01279 755777.