The dangers of homemade Wills
Saving money now could cost a small fortune in the future
The sad demise of famous entertainers often seems to give rise to family arguments, and disputes over the estate’s assets are not uncommon. In recent years we have seen this played out in the estates of Michael Jackson, George Michael, Aretha Franklin, and Prince.
In Aretha Franklin’s case, three homemade Wills were discovered in the singer’s home, the most recent of which was hidden under living room cushions. The Will was apparently handwritten and there were numerous deletions and notes. It was previously thought that the singer had died without leaving a Will. If the Will had been made in England and Wales, there are strict rules about alterations to Wills which might have caused the changes to invalidate it.
Are homemade Wills legal?
Homemade Wills can appear attractive because of their nominal cost and the relative ease of fitting the task into a busy lifestyle. They can, however, give rise to a number of problems which may cause considerable stress and difficulty for the testator’s surviving family and, at its worst, result in significant depletion of the estate’s assets in sorting out the disputes that may then arise. Saving money now could cost a small fortune in the future.
A homemade Will is only legally valid if properly drafted, signed and witnessed. The absence of these things means the Will will be in danger of being disputed.
Inheritance disputes are on the rise with an upward trend since 2015. This is no doubt due to a number of factors including an increase in average family wealth and the rise of “blended” families with more complicated structures. These considerations were among the factors that prompted the Law Commission in 2017 to begin a review and consultation on the law relating to Wills. This exercise may in the longer term lead to courts having the power to “save” a Will which is invalid due to failure to adhere to strict requirements about the form in which it should be made and signed, but even if the law is eventually changed in this way it should only be regarded as a backstop as any court application incurs costs and creates uncertainty.
The benefits of a professionally drafted Will
A professionally drafted Will avoids problems arising from incorrect form or signature and, in an age of increasing longevity, may also lessen the likelihood of disputes over capacity as this will be assessed, and a medical opinion sought if necessary. If you are making your own Will it is difficult to take an objective, detached view of the provisions you intend to include; talking your thoughts over with an experienced professional who is trained to recognise problems and pitfalls can be invaluable. If your estate, or your children’s, is likely to pay inheritance tax, a professionally drafted Will can also help you to reduce this as much as possible. Secure storage can also be provided free of charge so your Will can be easily located when required avoiding the sort of scenario seen in Aretha’s estate.
The Law Commission’s report on the reform of the law raised the possibility of electronic Wills, including video Wills, becoming an accepted Will making medium in the future. Virtual execution of Wills is available for a temporary period during the pandemic so perhaps this might be a move closer to new methods of Will making. However, in all cases adherence to the law relating to acceptable forms of Wills is essential.
Contact a Wills solicitor
For advice about writing a Will, contact one of our specialist Wills solicitors on 0800 652 8025 or contact us online.