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Covid-19 and the perils of DIY Wills

View profile for Antoinette Merryfield
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The last 12 months of the Covid-19 pandemic have seen more people than ever begin to put their affairs in order through writing their Wills and arranging Lasting Powers of Attorney.  While the world continues to turn to more digital tools as we work and live remotely, this has also seen the rise in so-called “DIY Wills”.  For some, these can be a useful, time saving tool, however for the majority of people this can leave stones unturned regarding concerns around the validity of the will, Inheritance Tax, Trusts, the consequences of multiple marriages, potential disputes between beneficiaries and understanding the varying types of Will that could protect your loved ones in the future. 

Antoinette Merryfield, Trainee Solicitor in our Private Client department, discusses more here about the rise of DIY Wills, the pitfalls that people can face and why seeking legal advice will always be the beneficial route to follow.

Can you still produce my Will working remotely?

The lockdowns arising from the Covid-19 pandemic led many to the assumption that legal advice is not available and that Wills cannot be completed.  However, this is not the case, and we are continuing to provide our full Will writing service, including offering solutions to potential issues surrounding valid signatures.  We are providing our legal advice and appointments using video conferencing facilities and can suggest viable options to provide the witnesses required in order to make a Will valid.

Is an online Will legally valid?

Having a Will is incredibly important as without one your estate would be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, meaning that your loved ones may not receive all that you would wish them to.

In order for a Will to be valid there are certain criteria under the Wills Act 1837 that need to be adhered to including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The Will must be in writing and signed by you as well as two independent witnesses, a requirement that has been complicated by the Covid-19 lockdowns.  Due to the importance placed on this, it’s crucial to understand the strict necessities regarding witnesses and how you can achieve this during the restrictions.
  • You must have mental capacity to write the Will and have a comprehensive understanding of your assets and the   consequences of the decisions you have made.
  • You must not have been coerced into signing the Will or been placed under any manipulation to leave certain aspects of your estate to certain beneficiaries.

From a practical perspective, there are many different rules in the preparation, execution and witnessing of the Will, some of which have been demonstrated above.  Any error in these practices could result in the Will being invalid, and using a Solicitor will avoid these errors arising. 

While an online Will may be perfectly valid, it could leave your loved ones more vulnerable to disputes between beneficiaries or claims that the Will was not valid.  Having a discussion with a Solicitor about your options and the consequences of your decisions as to any potential claims that could be brought in the future will ensure that you can adequately review your choices and write your Will accordingly.  A legal professional will also be able to assess and confirm that you do have mental capacity and that there has been no third party influence in your decisions, producing the required documentation to minimise the risk of future claims against your estate. 

Perhaps one of the most important reasons why you should seek advice from a Solicitor is due to the protection you are offered; many online Will writing services are not regulated, while Solicitors are regulated by several bodies, including the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Are there different types of Will?

A Will generally follows a certain layout which is why an online option can seem a simpler and cheaper option, however depending on your own personal situation it may be that alternative or additional documents could also assist you in the future.  For example:

  • you may wish to consider a Life Interest Trust Will if you have children from a previous marriage, and wish to secure any inheritance for them. This type of Will can also help  secure your property should you or your current spouse need to move into care.
  • There are certain tax and other financial benefits to setting up a Trust for your children, all of which can be discussed with you. 
  • While writing your Will, you may wish to consider setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for your health and care decisions, as well as your financial decisions. This would allow your loved ones to act on your behalf if you unfortunately lost capacity in the future.

The type of Will and the information included within will vary depending on how complex your estate is.  Even if you feel  that you have a simple estate and therefore do not need legal advice we would always recommend you seek an initial consultation to ascertain whether that is the case.  You may be cohabiting, have step-children, have high value assets or assets abroad, there may be other people who are financially dependent on you, you may have estranged family members; all of these and more will need due consideration as to your decisions for your future.

As well as understanding these options, we will also explain the effect of Inheritance Tax on your estate, explaining the tax-free bands open to you such as the nil rate band and residence nil rate band; a service not readily available using online services.

Antoinette concludes, “We can certainly see that for some the attraction of an online Will may outweigh the cost of coming to a Solicitor.  We tend to find in our experience however that for the majority of those who have made an online Will, there are usually complications further down the line that can lead to the estate not being administered in the way they wanted, a costly claim, or more costs involved in rectifying the issue.  We are particularly seeing an increase in litigation cases arising from a DIY Will.  A Will is such an important legal document; why wouldn’t you wish to spend the time and money ensuring it is valid, it truly reflects your wishes and reduces the risk of issues for your loved ones in the future?”

To discuss writing or updating your Will with Antoinette or a member of the Private Client team, you can contact her today on 01329 222075 or email privateclientenquiry@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.