The Over 50's Guide to Will Writing Services
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The chances are, you don't have a will. Statistically, in the UK less than half of all adults have a will, and of those that do, many are not up-to-date. Writing a will is one of those tasks that never seems to make it to the top of the to-do list.
There are a number of reasons why people procrastinate. Traditionally a will has been an expensive and time-consuming process, so people try to wait for the perfect time to prepare a Will. They wait until they settle down, acquire assets, get married, have children, buy a house, their children become adults. But a life never reaches a point where nothing will change, so the will is never written.
Some people plan to write a will just before they die. People often say “fortunately, I don't need a will yet”. But waiting until the end of your life to write a will is problematic for a couple of reasons; obviously, you don’t know when you are going to die, and as that time approaches, you may lose the capacity to prepare a will. Your Last Will and Testament is something that should be written when you become an adult, and then updated throughout your life as your circumstances change.
So what exactly does a will writing service do?
Firstly, it allows you to make key appointments. Primarily your Executor (the person who has the responsibility to carry out the instructions in the Will) and guardians for your young children. Without a will, if both parents are involved in a common accident, then friends and relatives will hopefully come forward and apply for the guardianship of the children. A judge will make that appointment on your behalf, taking into account their financial means, family situation and location. You can resolve any family turmoil by making the appointment in your will and explaining the decision. And your children will be spared the trauma of witnessing a custody battle.
Beyond the appointments, your will allows you to describe the distribution of your “estate” (everything that you own). This includes houses, money, and possessions. It is a very often stated misconception that “I don’t need a will, everything will go to my spouse anyway”. If you have children, this is absolutely not the case. Without a will your spouse will get a share, but depending on the size of your estate, so will your children. This often results in the family home having to be sold and the spouse being removed from their home. Most people who write a will have their spouse as the sole “beneficiary” with their children being the alternate, or backup beneficiary if the spouse is no longer alive. This is completely different to the distribution plan that takes place for somebody without a will.
But your will also allows you to do some fun and interesting things. You can leave money to a local charity, Roger Brown put some money aside in his Will for his best friends to have a boozy weekend in a European city. You can give some money to your favourite nephew to travel the World. You can make sure that your Eric Clapton signed guitar goes to your friend who would really appreciate it. Your Will allows you to be creative and show appreciation for the people and organisations who have impacted you during your lifetime.
A Will also allows you to make provisions for the care of your pets, by allowing you to put money aside and appoint somebody as the carer.
How Do I Prepare A Will?
There are broadly speaking 3 ways to prepare a Will.
Write it yourself using a blank piece of paper or a do-it-yourself Will kit.
This is often the cheapest way to prepare a Will, but the most difficult approach. It is actually very difficult to write a well drafted Will using a blank sheet of paper. Even experienced estate planning solicitors rely on established legal clauses that are known to work, and then copy and paste these into a Will for their client.
Technically a handwritten document is a legal Last Will and Testament. If you write on a sheet of paper “This is the Last Will and Testament of me, John Smith, of Plymouth Devon. I leave everything to my wife Jane” Then sign and date the document. You will have created a legal Last Will and Testament. The only problem is, it’s not a very good one.
Most importantly, it has no “what if” scenarios covered. What if John and Jane are both involved in an accident at the same time? John may not care what happens to his estate in this scenario, but the courts will send everything somewhere. Did John really want everything he owns going to his brother?
Use a Solicitor or Will Writer
The more traditional approach to writing a Will is to use a professional. Most people have their Will written by a solicitor. The final document will almost certainly be better than one prepared using a blank form Will kit, but the process is expensive and inconvenient. It involves making an appointment for yourself and your spouse if you have one, to go to the solicitor’s office during business hours, and the document ends up costing several hundreds of pounds. Even if you manage to co-ordinate the appointment and get your Will written, updating the document when circumstances change can be a pain. This is why many people end up with a Will that was written before they had any children, who are now adults and have left home! Although they technically have a Will, at best it is useless, but more likely it reflects a different time and not representative of their current wishes.
There are a growing number of professional Will writers who help you to prepare a Will over the phone, or even visit you at your home. Unfortunately, in the UK there are absolutely no qualifications required to become a professional Will writer. Although there are professional bodies, there is no legal requirement to be a member of these organisations. So you have to be a little careful with Will writers, particularly if they just phone you out of the blue.
Be very careful of free or cheap Will writing services; they often insist on writing themselves in as the Executor of your Will. This is a far more lucrative payday calculated as a percentage of your estate. As this article explains “a high street bank charged the estate £40,000 simply for distributing £1m held as cash in a deposit account”. This was less than an hour’s work.
Use an online interactive service
Over the last decade or so we have seen the emergence of online interactive services that guide you through the process of preparing a Will. Unlike the blank form Will kit, they generally take you through your Will in a step-by-step fashion, so if you identify that you have young children, you are prompted to name guardians for them, or even set up a trust for them.
These services make sure that all eventualities are covered so that no situation can arise that leaves you without a plan. Many of these services allow you to also make updates to the document as your circumstances change; you simply login to your account, make the change, and print out a new document. This is then signed in the presence of two witnesses to make it a legal Will. The nice thing about these services is that you can prepare your Will conveniently, in the comfort of your own home, for a fraction of the price of a solicitor.
These services have also started to offer a lot more by harnessing the power of the internet. For example, you may be able to upload to your account key information for your Executor, or files, messages, funeral wishes, all to be accessed by your loved ones at the appropriate time (and not before). It is the twenty first century equivalent of the sealed envelope “only to be opened….”
So which approach is best for you?
There is never a circumstance where writing your Will using a blank sheet of paper, or with a do-it-yourself blank form kit, is the best approach. Unless you are literally pinned under a rock and your death is imminent, do not attempt to handwrite your own will.
The decision then falls between a professional Will writer, and interactive software. And this comes down to the complexity of your family and financial affairs. If you have a very large estate that can benefit from some sophisticated estate planning, then you should seek legal advice. However, if you are clear on how you wish to distribute your estate, and you don’t feel that you would benefit from any specific legal advice, then you may want to explore the new range of online services.
Will & Testament Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How much is a will?
A will writing service can be pretty standard if you just want the basics covered. There area multitude of online will services that are automatic and even software that you can buy to keep track of updates. These companies will dictate fixed fees because all they need do is review it, sign, send you back a copy and shelve it until necessary.
For this you will be charged a minimal fee under £100 depending on the area and expertise of the solicitor. The better the solicitor the more costly, the more national a solicitor's partnership the more even their prices and so on. In essence wills fall into main categories, let's look at a few.
Living Wills: It's not enough for some people to have a donor card or to allow a relative to decide upon medical issues on their behalf. Which is why at the behest of clients the living will was created. Instead of being enacted when you die, it is fully activated should you find yourself in a medical situation that you leaves you unable to communicate and with sound mind to Doctors when vital questions are asked about the state of your health.
This legal document can be used in tandem with other forms of Wills to enable your life to be organised around you and for decisions to be legally made without the hassle of others intervening in a court. Such as care for your children, who should pay the mortgage, should the house be sold to keep you in a home. Or directly pertaining to a living will, should any machine aiding in you living be turned off so that you can die?
Cost: Below average cost of a normal will, under £100.
Notes: It's not enough to just write a will. If you get caught up in an accident, the NHS knows who you are through any paperwork on your body and therefore can contact your own Doctor for files on you. Ensure you have advised your Doctor of your Living Will and have it attached to those files.
Single Wills: This is a normal will, it will specifically deal with your life's assets and treasures upon your death. They are pretty straightforward at the outset but when it comes to investments, assets and businesses the waters start to get a little murkier with legal speak and this is where you need may help.
Legal jargon is tricky at the best of times could mean the difference between paying 40% on inheritance tax or none at all. It could mean a house is sold to save a business or visa versa instead of transferring hands to make business decisions and appointments legal. Equally this could be a ten minute discussion, no assets and straight forward, Husband or Wife or Civil Partner gets everything.
You will need to add beneficiaries, name of an Executor, list assets, belongings and investments and how they should be dispersed and who should take care of children or pets.
Cost: Basic cost £100 to £200 depending on components.
Notes: The larger the estate the longer the development, the higher the fee. Be wary of allowing services at the time of will distribution that are percentages of an Estate. if you can trust a relative to be the Executor rather than allowing a solicitor 3% of the Estate I know which I'd choose.
Mirror Wills: What are also known as Joint Wills, they enable couples who are unmarried or married or married in a civil partnership to create a legal document that tidies up their affairs should either of them die. There's little point two people with the same wishes i.e. the other gets everything belonging to the other, getting two different wills if they are effectively the same.
You may still choose differences for your version of the will, these will simply show as participles of addendum or notes on own funeral arrangements. Effectively if for example Husband of Wife dies they will wish each other to receive their assets and tidy all affairs up so there is no legal hassle or challenges from a third party. An ex Wife perhaps or estranged Son.
These joint wills are not as romantic as they first seem though. It doesn't operate like a joint bank account. If one signatory decides they wish to change their half of the will and give all their money to charity instead of the person they are married to, the person they are married to won't find out until they die. In this respect it's good that they remain individual wills but don't walk into a Mirror Will thinking it cements Will and Testament decision making because it doesn't.
Cost: 50% to 60% more than that of a Single will but still 30% to 40% cheaper than having two arranged at the same time. Compare legal costs across many different Will variations, remember, a Will can encompass many different aspects of different wills within in one, which should lessen the cost altogether.
Lasting Power Of Attorney: We have already delved into a Living Will which takes care of your medical situation should you become unaware or medically unsound to make decisions for yourself. We have also looked into mirror wills which are for two people who are emotionally entwined. A Lasting Power of Attorney is the absolute control of your affairs past the point of non compos mentis - Latin for no longer in control of one's own mind.
A person may consider signing such a document and laying out their plans for life when no longer in control at the onset of a disease early on in life, or during our more senior years. It basically gives authority to a group or individual with instructions on how to care for you and most of all, allowing them to make decisions about your life, your care and your financial matters and estate all on one bit of paper.
There are two types; Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney and also a Property and Financial Affairs Lasting Power of Attorney. The first is very related to mental capacity and that non compos mentis phrase. You can assign control automatically when a professional is certain you are no longer of sound mind or are incapable of caring for yourself. It pertains to healthcare, treatments and general living arrangements.
The latter will encompass your finances and estate and you need to understand that the correct wording is used when putting it in place. While the former is enacted at the loss of mental capacity, this document can be used if you lose mobility, are with disease, suffer from illness, disappear for a length of time or give legal instruction while outside of the UK.
Cost: In the region of £300 for basic personal and basic business, £450 for a mirror version. Separately a fee to the The Office of the Public Guardian of £82 who oversees such documentation.
Notes: These Lasting Power of Attorneys can also be adapted to cater for sole traders and small to medium sized businesses.
Trust Wills: Aside from Wills there are also a variety of Trusts that will keep instructions for a time of need bestowing privileges and responsibilities on certain people and organisations in the event of your death or in poor health.
For overseeing the continual dispersal of an asset or use or a continued cash flow or property agreement. A situation where the beneficiary doesn't actually gain control wholly and instead of aided by others with the control until certain measures are met or eternally. These are termed;
Property Trust Wills: There are several ways this document can help. By lessening financial impact of residential care fees for property long term. It can follow your exact Will's reasoning for disposal and prevent it from continuing should an incident arise that you, post death, might disagree with. Such as your partner, the beneficiary, re-marrying or changing their own will, which would automatically see the Trustee step in and take action to see the asset is removed and passed on to the next named person.
Life Interest Trust Wills: Similar to the Property trust except for far reaching assets and investments and ensuring they are in trust to future generations, managed precisely and protected. Essentially offers same changes should wishes be not conformed o but also with the facility to ensure incremental income is apportioned to the correct beneficiary while the investment remains in place.
Discretionary Trust Wills: If you are wishing to leave an asset or property to someone in care or is a vulnerable person for whatever reason, a disability, not with full mental capacity then you can enable their enrichment to be managed on their behalf.
This wouldn't mean that person is adherent to your demands but simply that your action of good faith does not cause upset or change their lifestyle beyond what's is necessary. So they can gain the advantage of running a house and owning an house without the responsibility of upkeep and so forth.
It simply bequeaths without interrupting any state benefit entitlements or can aid someone with learning disabilities or lacking the ability to look after themselves.
Cost: Setting up Trusts in this manner are usually priced in the region of £400, Mirror trusts a quarter more at £500.
Do I need a solicitor to draw up my will?
You do not need to enlist a solicitor to have a legal document that pertains to your wishes in the event of a death. However should your estate be complicated and involve many people who may contest such a personalised document, there may be issues. For instance language used can be interpreted to mean different things is not used in the correct legal manner. It is perfectly acceptable for you write your wishes down but Children, partner or relative may try to contest on any basis they can think of.
Who can witness my will?
Even if you do write up your own will and if you hire a will writer and a solicitor to finalise, you will still require at least two signatories to act as witnesses that this was your will. People who will be alive to attest to the fact that it was all proceeded with in good faith and there was no foul play.
Incredibly, unlike the huge deference paid to Professional person when requiring a passport, such a vital legal document pertaining to assets,property and investments doesn't require a Teacher, Doctor, Solicitor or Policeman. The law simply states that they should be competent and independent of the act.
Therefore, one wouldn't advise any of the following as witness, a relative, a Husband or Wife, Children, any beneficiary, any one connected to a charity or organisation that may be a beneficiary or anyone under 18 or a person that has learning disabilities, is partially sighted or is without the mental capacity to understand what they have witnessed.
Is my will legally binding?
If you write in your will that a person has to jump up and down 50 times to receive some cash the person may well wish to carry out the deed, But do they need to? The answer is no. A Will and Testament is a person's desire to see their wishes carried out after death and all usual circumstances this can be achieved.
However, if a wish is not palatable within the law or appears to be asking too much of a person it can be contested in a court of law. Should the judge decide the person need not be legally bound by bequest then that article of the Will can be dispersed to the beneficiary.
In relation to third parties that are blood relatives of the deceased and not named in the Will. Or a beneficiary is named in the will but feels hard done by, or there are children involved and the amounts they received are disproportionate to their needs as children, the court, third parties or other relatives can content the legality of a Will's instructions.
In effect yes your Will is binding and legal but not entirely legally binding, in that people can use the same law your Will is wrapped in, to unwrap it and get a little leeway and an understanding of the law as they and others might perceive it. In support of all of this, it's a lot better to have a Will than for it to go to the Crown or to see more people fighting over what you left behind.
What should I specify in my will?
A will can be as inclusive and as not exhaustive as you see fit. You should include the important aspects of your Estate, the beneficiaries and name an Executor. Your will can be as short as informing all that your Wife is to receive everything or longer and detailed ensuring the Queen of England spoon or Mickey mouse toy goes to Great Grand Child Mary and Great Grand Child Ben.
-Appoint Executors, name Guardians for children, state beneficiaries and what item / amount they should receive, Name bank accounts and what should happen to the sums or combined total, Denote charities, Name a Guardian for pets, Allocate properties, assets and investments. Instruct Trusts be set up for ongoing investments and who should receive recurring income and any trusts for those who many need assistance with the instructions given so their lives are enriched having become benefactors of property or money.
You can even write the things you've always wanted to say to your Children or someone of importance. It's your last Will and Testament, your final wish and your final say on the life that is yours and laid before the world.
What happens if I die without a will?
Many people decide to sort their financial affairs in the event of death much nearer such a foreboding moment. The rest of us tend to get motivated when we buy an house and have responsibilities such as a marriage or children are involved. We settle the score so to speak to ensure loved ones are kept safe and are not harmed by us suddenly popping upstairs earlier than planned.
Should you however die without writing a will - intestacy. And you do not have a wife, or children or a distant cousin in Tasmania - blood relatives, then it is left to the Crown to receive and disperse as they see fit. The Crown is a real body and any remaining estate will be over seen by the Bona Vacantia Department, who will dispose of all your belongings assets and distribute the wealth to... well probably HM Treasury of the British Government.
How Do I Account For Debts In A Will?
You can write in how debts are dealt with, to assist the Executor in distributing the estate. Debts whether you die before settling will always be settled from your estate before any beneficiary is accounted for. If there are no assets, then debt is forgotten. If there is an asset and a debt of £5000, the money will be deducted somehow. If the debt is more than the worth of the asset, the Executor can pay this amount to retain the asset.
Once I Create A Will, Where Do I Keep A Will?
There will always be at least two copies of a will, one for yourself and one for the legal party who drew it up. You can choose to keep the enforceable copy with the solicitor until the time it is needed or keep it with the local Probate office. Both may charge a fee. You can keep it under your mattress or in a safe or safety deposit box but with an asset or estate, probably best kept safe and secure with a legal representative.
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