The Risks of Choosing to Write Your Own Will

Here at Higgins Miller we specialise in matters of family law, which means that we’re used to dealing with people in a manner which is clear and transparent but also sympathetic and calming. We handle issues such as divorce, children disputes and cases of domestic abuse, and we’re always aware of the fact that people come to us during some of the most stressful life-events they’ve ever faced. We also deal with questions surrounding wills and probate, and our ability to keep clients grounded when dealing with difficult issues, at the same time as offering detailed legal expertise, is just one of the reasons why we would always recommend coming to us rather than opting to write your own will.

It’s easy to see the appeal of deciding to write your own will. It keeps things simple, it’s a relatively inexpensive process and it’s over and done with quickly, something which many people value highly when it comes to matters relating to their own eventual death. At first glance your family circumstances might seem fairly straightforward, meaning that opting to write your own will is just a case of simply setting down which parts of your estate you wish to leave to which particular beneficiaries, but we know from experience that things are often much more complex than this. To begin with there are the fairly simple questions to be answered when you write your own will, such as how many witnesses you need, when they need to sign as witnesses and whether they can also be beneficiaries of the will. In addition to this, opting to write your own will means naming the executor of your state – the person who will have to deal with the process of probate – and making alterations as your circumstances change. The simple truth is that even a slight mistake when dealing with just one of these details – and a host of others – could lead to problems later on which leave your loved ones stranded without resolution for as long as months at a time, and eventually result in them being hit by probate fees or avoidable inheritance tax which leaves them massively out of pocket. 

Perhaps the first question to ask when deciding whether to write your own will is exactly why you should write a will at all. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings on the subject of wills, as there are on many legal issues, with people believing, for example, that someone with whom they have lived for several decades will automatically be entitled to inherit their estate – and in particular, the home they shared – when they die. The truth is that only spouses or civil partners automatically inherit in this way, and then under strict rules. In addition to this, people often assume that simply setting down in writing how they wish their estate to be shared out – i.e. stating a percentage to be left to a particular charity – will be enough to make sure it happens. In legal terms, however, there are very strict rules regarding how such wishes need to be set down, and these rules are the reason why deciding to write your own will is such a risky process. 

It’s often the case, for example, that people are married more than once and sometimes multiple times, and if more than one of these partnerships results in children then an original will – written at the time of the first marriage – will quickly be out of date. It’s easy to assume that you simply have to take out your will, cross out the original section and add something new that meets the change in circumstances, but this would render the will invalid. Making changes of this kind involves writing a codicil to the will, which must be on a separate sheet of paper and signed, dated and witnessed in the same way as the original will. Any mistakes in this process – which are far more likely if you write your own will rather than seeking professional advice – could well lead to the changes being challenged, causing potential legal action which would delay resolution of the issues hugely as well as eating into the value of your estate. 

If you want to enjoy the peace of mind of knowing exactly how your loved ones will be provided for when you’ve gone then, instead of opting to write your own will, you should make use of the expertise of the solicitors at Higgins Miller. We’ll work quickly and calmly, drawing together assets such as savings, property and personal belongings, advising on how to set out how much each beneficiary should receive, and explaining the role of the executor of your will. In most cases, this will be a spouse or child aged over 18, but you may wish to opt for a legal professional such as one of our solicitors. We’ll also explain that any wills you’ve written previously need to be destroyed and that the new will should state that earlier wills are revoked. Finally, we’ll check carefully for simple mistakes such as misspelt names and make sure that the document is signed, dated and witnessed in the correct manner. 

If you’re planning to write your own will in order to save some money then it’s probably best to think again about the money, time and distress that you could save for your loved ones by making sure that the will you leave behind is 100% legally binding. If you’d like to learn more about the risks and potential pitfalls of trying to write your own will or have questions about the general topic of wills and probate, simply call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected] We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. An initial 20-minute appraisal can be provided free of charge, and our fixed fee first appointment scheme means you can access help without worrying about rising costs, in addition to which we provide a fixed fee will writing service. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here. 

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February 17, 2020

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