You don’t know what you don’t know!
Many of us have seen the advertisements for cheap Wills and the DIY kits that are available, but are you really getting a good deal? A Will is a legally binding document that is essential in ensuring your clients assets and savings are distributed as per their wishes. But many people fail to prepare for what is arguably an unsettling eventuality and in the instances where an ‘off the shelf’, DIY approach has been taken, errors can easily be made and go unnoticed or whereby the legal witnessing rules aren’t followed correctly – it can make the Will invalid. Unfortunately, however, if there is no valid Will in place should the worst happen, your client’s assets will be distributed in line with the rules of Intestacy. This can often cause upset and grievance between family members.
When people don’t know what’s involved in writing a Will or they’re unsure what the cost of having a professionally written Will would be, the price can often drive the decision making and lead people to searching for ‘cheap’ (often online) alternatives or picking up a DIY kit from a local retailer. Like Pavilion Row, we think all legal practices and Will writers should want to be transparent about their fees, displaying them clearly on their website (see our fees here). The key here is educating people, providing your clients with enough relative information to allow them to confidently make an informed decision. It isn’t the document itself that your client is paying for, it’s the specialist advice that guarantees your client receives a valid Will that accurately represents their final wishes and ultimately gives them peace of mind that their loved ones won’t be left with any unexpected surprises or unnecessary upset during probate.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls your client could fall victim to, without the right knowledge:
Will DIY Kits
As mentioned above, with this kind of approach errors can easily be made and go unnoticed which ultimately means your clients final wishes aren’t guaranteed to be followed; and whereby legal witnessing rules aren’t followed correctly, the Will can actually be classed as invalid – meaning your clients assets may not be distributed / gifted as they would have chosen. It’s also worth noting here that when a person chooses this method of Will writing, they’re often (through no fault of their own) unaware of the legal nuances, particularly around financial matters and beneficiaries; such as up to date inheritance tax legislation and how to protect and provide for a ‘blended family’ model. We however, can ensure your client has (for example) a valid Will that protects both their immediate family and other long-term wishes.
In addition to this, your client risks leaving their family with unnecessary financial and emotional stress that could lead to additional legal bills and unexpected tax. A recent study actually suggests that ineffective DIY Wills are the cause of prolonged probate ordeals for over 38,000 families per year.
‘Cheap’ or Free Wills
A quick Google search for cheap Wills will see results coming up from £19.99! Although this may appear like a good deal on the surface, this should in fact be a warning. Remember, it isn’t the document itself that your client is paying for, it’s the specialist advice that guarantees your client receives a valid Will that accurately represents their final wishes and ultimately gives them peace of mind that their loved ones won’t be left with any unexpected surprises or unnecessary upset during probate. In addition to running the risk of being left with an ineffective or even invalid Will as mentioned above, there have also been numerous cases whereby not being made aware of the small print, has cost families dearly. After all, the devil is in the details. A recent article uncovered cases where families were charged over £30,000 by banks to administer estates. In the small print that many clients were unaware of, the banks who offered the free service reserved the right to be named executor – charges for which were only made clear when probate began. Although extreme, not having an executor of the clients choosing isn’t out of the ordinary, under these circumstances. Many people who opt for a cheap / free Will, often end up with a document that fails to accurately detail all assets. In some (but not all) cases, families are not made aware of the fees for handling estates after death. Any discrepancies after death can go unresolved and cause unnecessary family upset, during what is already a delicate time.
Many of the cheaper or free Will writing services are done online, offering no support and no guarantees. Many cheap wills state that they are checked by a solicitor. Although this may sound reassuring, all they are really doing is checking that the document is valid. A document can be valid, but it does not mean that it is right for your clients’ needs or accurately reflects their wishes. What is important is the advice your get. However, when you speak to a qualified, experienced adviser they know what questions to ask and the relevance and importance of the answers given. They are able to provide tailored advice according to your unique set of circumstances -therefore ensuring that you get a document that truly fits your needs and requirements.
Without getting the right advice and support, your client could lose out by paying too much inheritance tax on money or assets that they leave. Your client deserves the opportunity to ask questions or gather advice from professionals who understand the complexities of Will writing. A common complexity is knowing the difference between an Executor and a Trustee, and how you can legally appoint a guardian to take care of young children, should the worst happen.
Ultimately, there are many issues that can occur if your client has a Will written without receiving expert advice and guidance. The most common are:
- Difficulty locating the Will after death
- Not updating the Will when personal circumstances change
- Failure to sign the Will or have the signing witnessed
- Having a witness that is also a beneficiary
- Oversold Wills that are unnecessarily complex
- Having a Will that is valid but inconsistent with the client’s wishes
In addition to the client receiving poor to no advice around Wills and Probate, they’re also not advised of any other financial matters. We work with our introducers and their clients so that the client has a team of experts working together long-term and in tandem with each other, ensuring their peace of mind and their financial future is taken care of, in a way that works for them and their loved ones. We have a duty of care to ensure that the Will is actually completed. We don’t ‘take the money and run’ once the document is sent out for signing and our duty of care does not end. We follow up to ensure that the wills are signed and returned to us for checking and provide full support to you and your client, throughout the journey.
A STEP in the right direction. All our advisers are trained and qualified to the highest standards outlined by STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners). Choosing a STEP qualified adviser means your adviser is the most qualified and highly trained in this specific area of Law and as such, is able to provide you with highest level of services and advice.