The Over 50's Guide to Will Writing Services
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.
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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 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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