14th August 2020

The Dangers of DIY & Online Wills

The dangers of the unregulated sector and the desperate dangers of online Will construction packages

Making a Will can be essential to ensure that on your death certain assets are distributed according to your wishes. If you do not create a Will, then you risk assets passing by intestacy rules to people you may not wish to benefit. Despite this, two out of three adults do not have a Will in place. Of those who do have Wills in place, these often need updating or are invalid.

Why? One reason is the cost. Wills drafted by a solicitor – who has taken detailed instructions and has a good understanding of the clients’ wishes, needs and aspirations as well expertise in the necessary statute and common law – has a price tag attached to it. Even though people do not think twice about expenditure for protecting assets in other contexts, for example house insurance, the cost can be off-putting.

Person Typing on Laptop

Self-Regulated Will-Drafters

An option that can be less costly is the self-regulated Will-drafters marketplace. Some Will-drafters are efficient, knowledgeable and carry appropriate amounts of insurance against the risks of mistakes but there is no guarantee that a person will pick this type of expert and reliable Will-drafter.

Buss Murton Law have assisted people who made the unfortunate decision to use the services of a notorious Will, Lasting Powers of Attorney and Trust drafting business that ran many popular seminars all over the country. This business ran into significant problems causing expense and distress to those who had put their trust and funds into it. The police and various regulators became involved.

In many cases, clients ended up with overly complex solutions to problems which were simply not there in the first place. Whilst some firms of solicitors can have difficulties, the procedures for compensation and document retrieval are tightly regulated. In addition, established firms of solicitors tend to have valid reputational concerns – most solicitors would not advocate schemes which they themselves would be uncomfortable entering into when it comes to inheritance tax planning or long-term care costs planning.

Hand Signing Document

In a bid to avoid any expense, people may consider writing their own Will.

What Are the Dangers of Do It Yourself Wills?

Firstly, there is no restitution if you get it wrong. There is no one to sue and your chosen beneficiaries could suffer a loss or – worse still – inherit nothing at all.

One danger that solicitors are well-versed in guarding against is the charge that the person making the Will does not have sufficient mental capacity to do so. A Will made in such circumstances is likely to be challenged after death. If that challenge succeeds, then assets will be distributed according to intestacy rules or according to a previous Will.

With an increasingly ageing population and disharmonious families, the risks associated with a Will being contested are on the rise. Using a solicitor will help safeguard against any challenges to your Will.

Your Will may also be challenged if it can be suggested that it was procured through duress or undue influence. Put simply, a person was coerced into making a particular Will which, had they not been suffering from that coercion, they would not have made.

Frequently, the person benefiting will be the person assisting the victim to make a Will in their own favour. Sadly, this situation does come in front of solicitors as well – usually in the guise of what we term third-party instructions i.e. from a potential beneficiary.

There is nothing wrong in a solicitor taking those third-party instructions. However, they must, of course, satisfy themselves by speaking with the person whose Will it is to confirm that the third-party instructions are indeed what they wish to see in place and not a result of undue influence or coercion being exerted against them. There are no such checks with a DIY Will.

Will Writing Service Charities

Many charities carry out free or subsidised Will-making services, often in the hope that those taking advantage of the scheme may be minded to make some provision in the Will for the charity who is paying for this service.

Why Do People Use Online Will Services?

Increasingly, for reasons of costs, convenience and negative perceptions of the legal profession, people turn to online solutions.

Wills are drafted from information provided online by individuals with a range of expertise and experience. Even if the online service is operated by people who do have sufficient expertise, online Will drafting suffers the problems associated with the dislocation between the information gathering process on the one hand and the Will drafting on the other.

Buss Murton Law’s view is that the solicitor taking the instructions should get to know their client and provide advice not restricted solely to the Will but to related matters such as the advisability of having a Lasting Power of Attorney, Inheritance Tax and the operation of the current rules for financing long-term care.

Two People Talking

Increasingly, online Wills involve no human contact at all but rely on algorithms. Information is inputted and a Will is generated. No doubt, algorithms will become increasingly sophisticated, but can a program advise a person that what they think they want is not, ultimately, in their or their beneficiaries’ best interests or produce a bespoke Will?

Increased choice is undoubtedly a good thing for people wishing to consider creating or updating a Will. The danger is that some choices carry increased levels of risk that the Will won’t function as you might have wanted, may result in an unnecessary Inheritance Tax liability, or be invalid.

Whilst low-cost options are attractive and may provide you with a perfectly acceptable outcome, this is not always the case.  Sadly, some of our work involves assisting clients who have fallen foul of a poor Will-drafting service or assisting bereaved relatives to negotiate an unexpected intestacy situation.

With the complexity of modern assets, changing tax regimes and the increasing variety of family structures. Now, more than ever, solicitors and others who are highly experienced in drafting Wills should remain the preferred choice.

If you are having trouble with an online will service or are in need of professional legal advice regarding a Will, please contact us now on 01892 510222, or at info@bussmurton.co.uk.

Edward Walter

Edward Walter