Can You Write a DIY Will?
The short answer is “yes”. Writing your own Will can be cheap and, if done correctly, it should be legally valid. But those three words - if done correctly - are critical.
Without the proper training and knowledge, it's easy to make mistakes that mean your wishes are not followed, miss opportunities to make your legacy go further, or worst of all, invalidate your entire Will leaving you intestate.
Here are just some of the common issues with DIY Wills.
1. Invalid Attestation
The signing of your Will (“Attestation”) must follow very strict rules. If these rules are not followed precisely, the entire Will is invalid and none of your wishes written into it will be legally binding.
The Will must be signed by the Testator/Testatrix (the male/female person writing the Will) in the presence of two Witnesses. The Witnesses must also sign at the same time and there are rules regarding who can act as a Witness for the purposes of Attestation.
2. Common Mistakes
Wills encompass often complex legal instructions. For the untrained, even with a standardised Will template, it is easy to miss important clauses, to mis-write them, or to include contradictory instructions.
It’s not uncommon when struggling with legalese to gift several beneficiaries £5,000 each when the intention was to share £5,000 between them, or vice versa. Similarly, it’s not uncommon for testators to specify gifts to share between beneficiaries but fail to stipulate whether it should be shared equally, or otherwise. Some might think if the odd mistake creeps in, “the family will sort it out”, but I’ve seen enough vicious family arguments caused by ambiguous intentions to know this isn’t something to be relied upon.
3. Missed Opportunities or "unknown unknowns"
Even if you avoid the pitfalls and your DIY Will is legally binding and accurately reflects your aims, it may be far from what you could have achieved had you sought specialist advice. In my experience, the biggest downside of DIY Wills is that the testator fails to understand all the tools and techniques open to them and they fail to take advantage.
Fathers might leave half of their estate to their children directly, failing to realise they will leave them with a significant Inheritance Tax (IHT) bill to settle. On-the-other-hand, parents might fail to provide for someone who has previously been financially dependant on them. You might think this is their choice but the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 states such people are one ‘class’ of people who have a right to make a claim against an estate. This applies even if a valid Will has left them out.
Testators with ex-spouses might fail to mention their exes, assuming they will have no claim on the estate. But unmarried exes also have a right to make a claim enshrined in the 1975 Inheritance Act. Had the Testator known this, and understood how they can make provisions in their Will to reduce the chances of a successful claim, a very different outcome might have been accomplished.
So, whilst it is perfectly legal, and perhaps appropriate in some simple cases, for most people a DIY Will may be a false economy that isn’t realised until it’s too late.