DIY wills: should I draft my own will?
There are lots of methods that you can use to write your own will. You can buy a book, buy a will-making kit (at the supermarket, even) or purchase software. The pitch for these products is, essentially, that a will is a simple legal document and that you can save yourself time and money by writing your own.
Some people have successfully used these types of products to write their own wills -- or even written a valid will without purchasing anything at all. Equally, though, there are many stories of people who were not so successful.
Before you set out to write your own will, you might consider the following:
(1) Your will may be more complicated than you think
Even an apparently simple will can turn out to be fairly complex. If, for instance, you have young children or you are likely to leave an estate with a value greater than the nil-rate band for inheritance tax, then there are some significant choices that you will need to make in crafting your will.
Does your will need to provide for the appointment of guardians for minor children? If so, are you aware as to how you should evaluate prospective guardians? Should your will create a trust on your death? Are you going to be able to make effective use of the spousal exemption and nil-rate band for IHT purposes? Do you know how to do that?
Those are a few of the questions that can arise in the course of drafting a will. If you're not confident about your ability to address them -- even with the assistance of the latest will-writing software -- then you might consider getting some professional help.
(2) A do-it-yourself will is not necessarily going to save you time or money
In terms of immediate outlay, a DIY will package is probably going to be a bit cheaper than a solicitor. And if you're absolutely confident in your ability to take the DIY approach, that may be fine.
An error, though, can be very costly. Varying the will after you die could involve a court order and even contentious litigation, with attendant legal fees and court costs. A mistake could also lead to greater tax liability for your estate.
In addition, some provisions of a will can fail if not expressed correctly. For instance, if a beneficiary of the will also serves as a witness to its execution, the gift to that beneficiary will likely be invalid. You can also run into trouble with gifts that may, for various reasons, fail to vest because of drafting errors.
(3) The cost (and benefit) of using a solicitor
Two of the main benefits of using a solicitor to draft your will are (i) solicitors who specialise in estate planning work can not only draft your will correctly, but can also provide you with suggestions and advice as to your overall estate plan, and (ii) if a solicitor makes an error, you (or your estate) may have a claim against the solicitor for negligence -- and solicitors carry professional indemnity insurance to cover such claims.
A solicitor's costs are something you can negotiate with the solicitor. Some law firms view will-writing as a “loss leader”, since a will written by the firm will often enable the firm to get the probate work associated with your estate when you die. If you shop around, you may find that the cost of a professionally written will is not vastly more than a do-it-yourself job.
A further benefit of using a solicitor is that solicitors' firms frequently will be prepared to store your will for no charge. That ensures that your will is kept in a safe place and that it will be readily accessible to your beneficiaries.
Finding a solicitor who can help
There are many solicitors who do estate planning work, and you can find them with an online search and by checking the Law Society website. A matching service, such as Contact Law, may also be a convenient way to find a solicitor in your area who has the relevant skills and expertise.
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