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What are DIY wills and are they legally valid?

Wills

Most people know they should have a will if they want their estate to be divvied out to the right people when they pass away. But, if you’re still not clued up on why a will is important, take a moment to read through our article; 5 very good reasons you need to write a will.

These days, it’s not uncommon to find that someone has written their own will. Templates for DIY wills are readily available and are much cheaper than hiring a professional, making them an appealing option.

But are these self-made wills legal? Will they stand up and do the job when the time comes? 

What is a DIY will?

First of all, it makes sense to understand what a DIY will actually is. In very basic terms, a DIY will is one which has been written without the services of a solicitor or will writing professional.

Are DIY wills legally valid?

In short, yes. They are valid as long as you have met the legal requirements. For a will to be legal it must be written down and made by a person of sound mind on their own accord. It should be signed in the presence of two witnesses who then also sign and date the document.

In theory, it is entirely possible to jot down your will on to the back of an old envelope. As long as you have signed it in front of two witnesses and those witnesses have signed it in return, it should be legally valid.

Obviously, this is not a recommended method for writing your will! It’s best to have something a little more formal. There are templates available online and in some stationary shops which are a better place to start if opting for a self-written will.

Self-made wills can be risky

One of the main issues with DIY wills is that they can easily be rendered invalid, contain mistakes or accidentally leave out assets. If the proper wording isn’t used, they can be left open to interpretation and, therefore, confusion between the executor and beneficiaries.

If it isn’t expressly obvious what wishes your will is setting out, claimants could dispute the will. A disputed will can be a lengthy and expensive process. It’s stressful for your loved ones and could lead to rifts in the family if a dispute turns particularly nasty. Which is probably not the legacy you want to leave behind, is it?

The legal fees associated with resolving an argument would most likely be paid out of your estate. This would also impact your beneficiaries as reducing the value of your estate would mean reducing the inheritance available for them.

DIY wills can be riddled with mistakes

If you don’t know what you are doing, you could leave yourself open to misinterpretation. Common mistakes people make when writing their own will include:

  • Accidentally leaving out assets and not considering how debts (like a mortgage) could reduce your estate. This could lead to your beneficiaries receiving less than you intend.
  • Forgetting to update your will with any change of circumstance, including named executors or beneficiaries dying before you.
  • Choosing executors who are unsuitable. For example, someone who is under 18 or lives outside of the UK.
  • Trying to amend your will yourself after it has been witnessed and signed. This can only be done with a codicil which is an official alteration. Again, this must be signed and witnessed to be legal.
  • Not using the correct wording. For example, not using someone’s full name.

What happens if your DIY will is invalid?

If your will is invalid it becomes subject to the rules of intestacy. This is a set list of individuals who are entitled to inherit your estate. You can read more about the rules of intestacy in our article who inherits if there is no will?

When might it be ok to write a do it yourself will?

In general, the consensus is that DIY wills should be reserved for only very simple situations. For example, a husband and wife who want to leave everything to each other.

Checklist for writing your own will

If you decide that a DIY will is appropriate for you, here are some key things to remember:

  • Make sure your will is correctly signed, dated and witnessed.
  • Your witnesses cannot benefit from your will, nor be the spouse of someone who will benefit from your will.
  • Be specific; rather than leaving your ‘property’ to someone, write down the full address and rather than leaving everything to your ‘husband/wife’, use their full name.
  • Make sure everything is spelled correctly.
  • Destroy any old wills and make sure your new one says that you revoke any previous versions of your will.
  • Tell your executor where your will is being kept.

When should you ask a will writing professional to help?

Having seen the fall out when self-made wills go wrong, we would obviously recommend always getting professional help when it comes to will writing. But there are some situations when a self-written will simply isn’t appropriate. Life can be complicated and if your will reflects that, you really should seek professional help. Particularly if:

  • You have a blended family. This covers separation, divorce and remarriage, step-children or step-siblings
  • You have a dependent who is unable to care for themselves
  • You share a property with someone you’re not married to
  • You own a property, shares or bank account overseas
  • You own a business
  • You want to set up a trust
  • You’re trying to reduce your IHT bill.

Face to Face Estate Planning are will writing experts

As will writing professionals, we would always recommend that you ask someone like us to help with your will. It’s the safest way to make sure that your will is water-tight and will stand when the time comes. We can even store your will for you which will save your executor a lot of hassle tracking your will down once you are gone.

Get in touch with the Face to Face Estate Planning team to arrange an appointment.