Online Wills - cheap, but not always cheerful
Recent statistics suggest that as many as 60% of UK adults do not have a Will*. Common reasons given include concern over drafting costs and simple procrastination. Could the internet provide a solution to yet another key aspect of life? Many companies are now competing to offer an online DIY Wills service that is quick and cheap. Creating a Will in under 10 minutes and for just £20 seems tempting, but is it worth it?
Making a DIY Will online is simple: fill in an online questionnaire; pay a small fee; print out the draft Will provided; and, finally, sign and witness. All within the space of a few minutes and at very low cost. However, what initially seems to be a considerable saving in time and money may, in the long run, turn out to be quite the opposite.
Will writing is not a regulated industry, so businesses offering DIY Wills are not required to carry insurance or provide legal advice to customers. Unregulated online providers may provide guidance notes on completing and executing the Will; however, they will often seek to limit or exclude liability for the legal validity of the Will and its suitability for a customer's individual requirements.
The Risks of Using a DIY Will
Making a Will using a simplified template which is not tailored to an individual's unique circumstances and without taking legal advice carries a number of risks:
- The Will may not be legally valid. Did the person taking out the Will (testator) have testamentary capacity and was the Will correctly executed? Online Will providers place full responsibility for ensuring compliance with these requirements on the customer. If, for any reason the Will is invalid, the testator's previous Will will take effect or, if they have not made one, the intestacy rules will apply. This means the testator's intended beneficiaries may not inherit.
- Does the Will fully dispose of the testator's assets? If a specified beneficiary predeceases the testator and no provision is made for a replacement beneficiary, the estate would be partially intestate.
- The simplified templates used by online providers allow little opportunity to incorporate complex provisions specific to the testator's circumstances. This prevents individuals from making bespoke arrangements for the distribution of their assets (some of which may be located overseas), as well as making full use of any relevant inheritance tax exemptions and reliefs.
- Certain online providers give the option of appointing themselves as executors of the estate (or even make use of their service conditional upon such appointment). If appointed, some companies charge considerable fees for administering the estate, on top of any additional expenses or fees for lawyers they choose to instruct. We would only recommend appointing professional executors in certain situations, for example, where the testator has no close family or friends who would be willing to take on that role, where the estate is particularly complex or where the testator wants someone independent to be appointed. Using professional executors otherwise unnecessarily diminishes the overall value of the inheritance.
- In the unfortunate event that the Will is challenged, making a successful claim against the online provider is much less likely. Is the provider liable, and if so, do they have insurance? If not, is the company even still in business (it stands to reason that claims relating to a poorly drafted Will are only likely to surface on the eventual passing of the testator)? Consider also how straightforward it will be to litigate against an online company. Is it based in a foreign jurisdiction and which law governs its contract for services?
The Safest Option
These are just some of the drafting and estate planning issues which may arise when making a DIY Will, but on which a solicitor can advise. Regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, solicitors are fully qualified and insured, and have a duty to clearly explain to clients the charges for the services they provide. Experienced solicitors will take a holistic approach when instructed to draft a Will, taking all your circumstances into consideration. A solicitor should ensure that you are fully informed not only about how your Will will effect the distribution of your estate, but also on complex issues, such as inheritance tax planning, dealing with overseas, business or trust interests and protection against care home fees.
A well drawn up Will offers security and peace of mind. If a Will is challenged, the intended beneficiaries might lose their entire inheritance as well as bear costs running into thousands of pounds. A solicitor may charge more than £20 for drawing up a Will, but this will protect you and your family from a potentially much more costly outcome.