Darren McGuinness, Solicitor at Harold Stock & Co, tackles the issue of wills, whether you can write your own will and, if you do, whether it is legally valid.
One of the most important issues we help people with is forward planning – in some cases very far forward planning! Because there is one sure thing in life, that one day, we will all “pop-our-clogs”.
Despite this inevitable fact, 60% of the population don’t have a will of any form, and plenty more people who do make a will, never review or look at afterwards.
There are also plenty of situations where a person has left a will, but the will is then challenged legally, and the wishes of the deceased person are overturned.
We deal with these kinds of situations regularly and the most common cause of such problems is that the written will is full of holes. Sometimes because situations have changed in the life of the deceased person since the will was drawn up, sometimes because the will writer failed to take certain situations into consideration when they composed the will, but sometimes too, because, the deceased person tried to write the will themselves.
Before we go on, I do want to state that you can write your own will and it can be perfectly valid. However, as we will see, writing a will yourself isn’t quite as simple as making out a list, writing: “This is the last will and testament”, and “I hereby bequeath…” and hoping it all works out alright.
Why should you have a will
Firstly, it’s important to remember why a will is so important. Your will tells everyone what should happen to your money, possessions and property after you die.
If you don’t leave a will, the law decides how your estate is passed on – and this might not be in line with your wishes. For more reasons why a will is so important, see our previous blog.
What is legally required in your will?
Your will is a legal document, whether you write it yourself or not. That means that it is vital that your will is legally valid. This doesn’t mean starting with the well known phrase, or that is has to be written on special parchment with lots of legal language.
But, it does mean that it needs to comply with certain legal requirements. It is valid as long as it:-
- Says how your estate should be shared out when you die
- Was made when you were able to make your own decisions and you weren’t put under pressure about who to leave things to.
- Is signed and dated by you in the presence of two adult, independent witnesses.
- Is then signed by the two witnesses in your presence – the witnesses can’t be people who are going to inherit anything from you or their husband/wife or civil partner.
Can you make your own will?
You can and, as long as you’ve followed all the above, it will be legal. But, there are reasons why solicitors usually write wills for clients.
Firstly, because wills can and do get challenged. There are numerous examples in the press over the years of wills being successfully challenged by family members, and if the will fails in any legal area, the wishes of the deceased person are likely to be overturned.
Secondly, people’s lives are complex. Very few of us have a single chest of gold pieces that can be equally shared out to our remaining loved ones (where everyone feels they are fairly treated). Many of us co-own or share houses, we have assets in trusts, pensions, various accounts and holdings. Some people have extended families, stepchildren, or other dependants who they want to support after their death.
Making sure all these requirements are met can be complex, which is where a fully qualified legal expert can help you put together a watertight will for very little expense. Compare that to the legal fees your estate could be lumbered with in the event of a problem, and it’s easy to see why most people talk to a family solicitor to make sure their will is watertight and legally compliant.
Should we use a will writer?
Whoever writes your will needs to understand how to make sure your will is accurate and representative of your wishes. There are some excellent specialist “Will Writers” out there. Many of whom are highly skilled and experienced at what they do – we work alongside some will writers at Harold Stock & Co.
However, not all will writers are experienced in every family situation and, as we’ve seen already, family and personal situations can be complex, with a range of different issues that need to be taken into account.
Seek the best advice about your will
Our advice is always to seek the best advice, and that means consulting with a professional solicitor who has the training, experience and legal backup to make sure your will is accurate, legally valid and completely water tight to your wishes. Not only does this give you peace of mind that your exact wishes will be carried out, it also reassures you that at a difficult time of grieving, you won’t be adding to your loved one’s pain and stress with a protracted legal fight about your will.
For any more information about the legal requirements for your will, or to talk to us about creating or reviewing your will, contact us at Harold Stock & Co.
Harold Stock & Co