A Rise in Disputes
In 2018 – 2019, the number of inheritance disputes heard by the High Court increased by over 60%.
This steep increase has been attributed to the rising popularity of DIY Wills. Complex family structures can make the division of assets between second or third families a source of dispute and the increased value of estates is a contributory factor, as DIY Wills are often vulnerable to challenge.
Save Now Pay Later?
Preparing a Will without professional support may be cheaper in the short-term, but in the long-term it could cause thousands of pounds in legal costs to be paid out of your Estate.
Wills need to contain exact wording and to be written correctly as they are official legal documents. A simple mistake in language could make it ambiguous, or open to interpretation. Even if a mistake can be put right after you die, resolving it can end up being costly, cause acrimony between your beneficiaries and involve several lawyers in resolving it.
What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?
If your Will is not witnessed or signed correctly it will be completely invalid – none of its provisions will apply. The rules for executing Wills are complicated and need to be followed exactly. It is one of the most common area for disputes as it can so easily go wrong. This will result either in your Estate being distributed in accordance with the law of Intestacy, or by reference to your previous Will, if you made one. In either case it will be contrary to your wishes.
Sometimes it is not just the signing of the Will, but the choice of witnesses that causes the dispute. It is a requirement that the witnesses are entirely independent, or this could cause issues with a beneficiary not being entitled to receive the gift under the will, whether it might be a specific gift or a share of the estate.
Did You Really Mean To Say That?
The legal terminology for writing a Will can be difficult to understand, which can result in you getting it wrong if you are tempted to write it yourself. If wording in your Will is open to interpretation, you run the risk of your wishes not being fulfilled. Gifts might fail, or beneficiaries might not receive what you wanted them to have. Interpretation disputes can be lengthy, expensive and stressful, even if matters can be resolved.
Expecting the Unexpected
After death there is a strict order in which your estate is paid out to your beneficiaries. For example, gifts of money are given out first, leaving the rest “the residue” to be paid out. If the value of your estate shrinks before you die, then the residue may be far less than expected, or not exist at all. A professionally drafted Will can deal with eventualities like this and ensure your wishes are carried out. If your DIY Will disappoints your family, or other beneficiaries, then they may look to challenge it.
We Are Not All The Same
Everyone’s circumstances are different and your circumstances can change over time. A Will made before marriage is automatically revoked unless made in contemplation of marriage. You may not be married to your partner or you may own property abroad, or have a foreign bank account, or you might have an interest in a business.
All of these circumstances could mean that the “off-the-shelf” or DIY Will might not be suitable for you. There may be family or other people who depend on you financially, which means that they could make a claim on your Estate. Or it could be that your family situation is such that you have good reason to disinherit someone. Specialist advice will ensure that these circumstances are dealt with.
The Benefits of Professional Drafting
Wills that are professionally drafted usually stand up to scrutiny better than DIY Wills. DIY Wills are an easy target, particularly if basic mistakes, or the wrong language is used. A professional adviser will also be able to guide you upon your circumstances and might recommend preparation of a “Letter of Wishes” as your explanation of why the Will was drafted in a particular way. If the Will is disputed this can form important evidence and help to avoid problems from occurring.
Will disputes are increasing and while it may not be possible to make a Will immune from challenge, a Will prepared by a professional adviser can ensure that you are aware of the risks and consequences. You will be advised on the steps you can take to protect your Estate from the risk of disputes.
How Can We Help?
We prepare Wills that are tailored for you, your situation and your family circumstances.
Unlike some providers we will not advertise a low headline price only to increase that cost once we have received your information.
If you have concerns about or have been affected by a DIY Will, please contact us immediately as there are strict time limits that can apply to challenging a Will.
Robert Syms leads our contentious probate and disputes team at Caversham Solicitors. He has completed the academic element of the ACTAPS qualification.
Robert regularly advises and acts for Executors, beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries in connection with Will and Estate disputes.
Robert can be contacted on T: 0118 9478638 or E: firstname.lastname@example.org