Should I use a Will template?

Signing a DIY will template

When it comes to something as important as a Will, it’s tempting to think that a free Will template might do the trick. It seems easy, cheap, and convenient.

It’s no secret that times are tough right now. The cost of living crisis has us all searching for ways to tighten the belt, and it’s completely understandable why someone might opt for a free Will template to try and save some cash. When every penny counts, it seems sensible to cut out what might feel like an unnecessary expense.

But here’s the thing: while a free template might save you money right now, it could cost your loved ones a lot more in the long run. Legal fees for sorting out a will that doesn’t do the job properly can be astronomical, not to mention the emotional toll on your family during a time when they’re already dealing with loss.

Think of it as an investment rather than a cost. Paying for proper legal advice now can save a fortune in future headaches. It’s about protecting those you love from extra stress and ensuring that your wishes are clear and uncontestable when you’re no longer around.

So, while the instinct to save is a smart one, this is one of those areas where it’s wise to be penny-wise but not pound-foolish. Investing in a professionally drafted Will can give you that priceless peace of mind and keep your loved ones out of legal battles during the cost of living crisis.

When a DIY Will is ok:

In a pinch, like before an unexpected emergency trip or when time isn’t a luxury, a free Will template might just suffice as a temporary safeguard. It’s a last-ditch option to briefly get your wishes down on paper. But keep in mind, this is a stopgap – something to use while you schedule that all-important appointment with a solicitor to craft a Will that’s thorough, clear, and enduring.

Where DIY Wills went wrong:

There are countless stories where DIY Wills have led to all sorts of chaos and heartache. Using a generic Will template can be a bit like cutting your own hair while blindfolded — you might save some money, but there’s a big chance you’ll be unhappy with the results. Take these real-life stories for example:

Eileen’s case

Eileen McCormack learned the hard way about the pitfalls of DIY wills when she faced the fallout from her cousin George’s well-meant but improperly executed Will. As reported in the Guardian, the Will, which her cousin carried around and amended over time, had various handwritten changes in different ink colours without being properly witnessed. When it came time to honour his final wishes, these seemingly small oversights turned into major issues, and Eileen found herself navigating a complex and costly legal process. Costs amounted to 16% of the estate’s value, which could have been avoided with a properly drafted Will. Despite her cousin’s intentions being clear in his own mind, the mistakes in his Will led to stress, delay, and financial loss for those he meant to take care of. This case serves as a poignant reminder that, while DIY Wills might be cheaper upfront, they can come at a high cost in the end.

Joanne’s case

Joanne Abraham, made a Will in 2008 which she altered in 2019 making her son Simon the executor. She drafted the later 2019 Will using, guess what? A template from the internet.

Joanne’s intention was that her children would end up as equals overall, taking into account any lifetime gifts. Ruling that the 2008 Will, and not the 2019 template version, would be used (i.e. admitted to probate), the judge stated that Joanne intended Simon to fairly distribute her estate to her children, following her verbal instructions. Had she visited a lawyer, they would have recognised ‘her intentions as for the creation of a discretionary trust in favour of Tom and Henrietta, with Simon as trustee to act in accordance with her stated intentions.’

The 2019 Will did not achieve that. Expensive and avoidable litigation ensued, the 2019 document was held to be invalid and the earlier 2008 Will was admitted to probate.

Alison’s case

Alison Ganning allegedly signed a Will shortly before her death which left her entire estate to her husband, Michael Ganning. However, this ‘homemade’ Will had not been properly witnessed, having been signed in the presence of only one witness (and Mr Ganning). The Will was therefore invalid, and Alison’s estate passed under  intestacy rules to Mr Ganning, Laura, and Alison’s brother.

A key point to make with this case is that the testator (Alison) and her witnesses were not all present together at the time the Will was signed by her. It is so important to get the execution of the Will right and solicitor involvement can help with that. The consequences of this failure were that Alison’s apparent wishes in her Will were not carried out, her estate did not pass as intended and costly litigation became necessary.

These stories echo the sentiment of dozens of anecdotes by solicitors online and they share a common thread — good intentions gone awry due to lack of legal clarity and foresight. Sure, using a Will template might feel like you’re checking off a to-do list, but Wills are nuanced. The law loves details, and templates often overlook personal circumstances, tax implications, complexities of asset distribution, guardianship details, formalities and legal requirements that differ from place to place.

When a solicitor is an absolute must

Writing a Will might seem straightforward until you consider your unique circumstances. There are times when it’s not just a good idea to get a solicitor—it’s essential. Here are a few situations where professional legal advice is not just helpful, but could be the difference between peace of mind and a potential legal muddle:

  • If you’re living with a partner but aren’t married, your assets may not automatically go where you want them to.
  • In the throes of divorce? Your financial picture is changing, and so should your Will.
  • Got business interests or property abroad? These can complicate even the clearest of Wills without expert input.
  • Planning to leave someone out of your Will, like one of your children, can be a legal minefield without a solicitor
  • If you’ve got loved ones who might struggle to manage their inheritance due to age, disability, or other reasons, a solicitor can help set up the right protections.
  • Blended families can be a blessing, but without a proper Will, they can lead to unintended outcomes for your assets and heirs from different marriages.
  • Lastly, if you’re lucky enough to have substantial assets (we’re talking £500,000 or upwards, or £1 million for a couple), the tax man might end up being your biggest beneficiary without proper planning.

When in doubt, or honestly, even if you’re not, getting legal advice is the smart move. It’s better to be over-prepared than to leave your loved ones tangled in legal knots.

Bottom line: a Will is not the place to cut corners. It’s the roadmap you leave behind for your loved ones, and clarity is crucial. It’s about making sure your wishes are legally recognised and as ironclad as they can be. So, think twice before reaching for that template. It’s worth the time and investment to get it done right with professional legal advice. That way, you can be sure that your Will is a true reflection of your wishes and not just another cautionary tale.

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