Alongside the increasing number of people turning to do-it-yourself Wills as a cost cutting exercise, probate disputes have also surged. Here, Wills and probate expert Stephen Parr explores the dangers posed by poorly managed estate administration and what happens when Wills go wrong.
While a DIY Will can seem attractive because of the cheap price, it can also prove a costly approach, as if errors are made or if the strict witnessing rules are not adhered to, the document may be invalid. If the will is found to be invalid, it is as if it never existed. The administration of an estate is also a difficult and time consuming task and if not managed by a specialist, can often lead to mistakes, disputes and costly legal action further down the line.
At Woodcocks Haworth and Nuttall, we receive an average of ten enquiries relating to estate disputes per month, in comparison to an average of just five per month five years ago. In cases where a Will is found to be invalid, the costs of putting right the problem is significant.
A lack of advice
One of the main issues of opting for a DIY Will is that the person preparing the Will is not taking any specialist advice and relying on their own research. When preparing a Will, full consideration needs to be given to your assets and it’s important that you are aware of other factors including tax implications.
In cases where estates are larger or more complex, for example if there are multiple children, or second and third marriages, Wills and estate planning matters can be much more complex, so attaining detailed advice is crucial.
Without speaking to the experts, these factors above are simply not considered, so the chances of your Will being invalid or complications arising with your estate increase dramatically.
Another hurdle for do-it-yourself Wills is compliance with the Wills Act, which states that the Will has to be in writing and signed by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses. A breach of the Wills Act is one of the primary causes of Wills being challenged or declared invalid, as many people simply don’t understand the stringent process that needs to be adhered to.
To ensure compliance with the Mental Capacity Act, when drawing up a Will a solicitor will also consider the mental capacity of the person making the Will.
Lack of trust
It’s not just errors in drawing up Wills that can prove problematic. A lack of trust in the testator of the Will on part of the beneficiaries is also prevalent in a lot of probate-related disputes. A lack of communication between the testator and beneficiaries often leads to a build-up of distrust, and the emotional cost of dealing with the fallout can also be huge.
It goes without saying that if there is a dispute with a Will then the primary witness and the person best placed to provide evidence is no longer there to testify. The main problem with contested or invalid Wills is that the estate will pass in accordance with the rules of intestacy, so those who you wish to benefit from your estate may not.
DIY Wills just don’t cater for the complexities of estates, and instead adopt a one-size-fits-all approach rather than dealing with estate management on a case-by-case basis. It is therefore vital that you seek the advice of a legal expert if you haven’t got a valid Will in place, or if you think your existing Will may be invalid.
For further information on Wills, probate and estate planning matters, please contact Stephen Parr on 01706 233 439