Thousands of Midlanders are putting their estates at risk by opting for cut price “DIY wills”, a lawyer has said.
Victoria Jones, a partner with Lester Aldridge who specialises in contested wills, said more people were looking to make savings at the moment as the credit crunch hit their purses.
But she said poorly written wills might save money in the short-term, but often ended up costing bereaved families thousands of pounds.
Ms Jones said: “Will writing services, ‘do it yourself” packs and online wills offer very cheap alternative methods of making a will without the need to see a solicitor. No troublesome appointments or correspondence to deal with and all for a fraction of the price. Sounds great, or is it?
“Some of theses alternatives are acceptable ways of making a will provided that your will is very straightforward. In today’s society, however, a will now needs to deal with many complex issues which some of these services do not cover, for example second marriages, stepchildren and financial dependants.
“Will writing services are unregulated and the quality of service given can vary substantially. In some instances they employ no legally qualified staff, which can result in a badly drafted or invalid will.”
She said many people were unaware that a will could be contested, especially if the drafting was unclear or ambiguous. The consequence of this could be that the person’s wishes were not carried out after their death and their family were left to pick up the pieces.
In one case she dealt with she said she found an apparent home made will which was so poorly written that certain bits of it did not even make sense. It left everything to the deceased’s partner and nothing to her immediate family. It also left gifts to the dead woman’s children, even though she didn’t have any.
After this erupted into a family dispute, the eventual costs involved in resolving the legal difficulty were almost £20,000.
Some of the contested will cases she has dealt with cropped up because people did not know how to sign the will using the correct procedure. This ended up in the document later being declared invalid.
“The best way to minimise the risk of this is to take full legal advice when the will is drafted and to discuss how any complex family issues can be dealt with in the will,” she said.
“It is heartbreaking for a family when they realise that not only may someone benefit from the estate that their relative did not intend to, but also that the estate itself will be severely depleted by the legal costs incurred through the contested will. Such costs are huge in comparison to the cost of paying a solicitor to draft your will. You wouldn’t attempt to draft the contract to sell or buy your home – why take a similar risk with something equally if not more important?”
She added she had seen the number of contested wills increase over the last three years, which she believes is a cause for concern.