The internet has brought billions of pages of information right to our fingertips, sharing an endless supply of knowledge and expertise on just about any subject you can imagine. Using Google, you can ask practically any question and receive an instant detailed guide or how-to video in seconds. But in the context of will-writing, that’s not a good thing.
Will writing is unregulated so it’s hardly surprising that so many websites offer will-writing services and kits. For the two thirds of adults in the UK who don’t have a Will, these websites can seem like a tempting way to quickly get your affairs in order. Any advice offered is generic so the cost of such services is low.
However, despite many of them looking extremely professional, there is no guarantee that even a single solicitor works for the organisation behind them unless they are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Quite literally, anyone can start such a site and charge for will-writing advice, templates and kits.
Without a Will, your assets pass according to the rules of intestacy. However, many people are surprised that the rules do not work the way they’d expect. For example, if you’re cohabiting with your partner and you die, they will inherit nothing – even if you’ve lived together a long time and / or have children.
If on the other hand you’re married or in a civil partnership and have children, the first £250,000 goes to your spouse / civil partner and the rest is split: 50% to your spouse / civil partner and 50% divided between the children. If the bulk of your estate is the family home and this rule means part of your property passes to the children, your surviving spouse or civil partner may find themselves in a difficult financial situation.
Making a Will is certainly the sensible approach to ensuring your loved ones are cared for. It can also cover matters such as guardianship of minor children, care for pets, gifts to charity and the type of funeral you’d like.
But with so many cheap kits and wizards available, is it really worth going to a solicitor?
One wizard service we tried asked a few questions about financial circumstances and generated a Will, at the cost of £90. The service stated that the Will would be ‘checked by an expert’ so we asked whether the expert would be a qualified solicitor. The customer service agent said no, although she assured us that the will-checkers had to ‘pass an exam’ and the templates themselves had been prepared by a STEP qualified practitioner. Another service claimed to be ‘solicitor approved’ but on closer inspection, it was clear that at no stage would a solicitor look at the generated Will. A quick check confirmed that this service was also not SRA-regulated. A further service we found claimed that a solicitor would check the will but careful inspection of the small print revealed that the again, the company was not regulated by the SRA. All three of these services appeared in the top spots of a Google search.
Even if a solicitor did check the template, there are more issues with these services. First, practically all of them advise that if you have more complex circumstances you should not use the wizard. But how do you know if your circumstances are more complex? This would require an in-depth knowledge of the law! Will-writing solicitors will always look at the bigger picture, considering issues such as estate planning and inheritance tax, future care fees, potential claims against your estate and preserving part of your estate for the children in the event of your partner’s remarriage. Some examples of ‘more complex’ situations include:
- You were married previously.
- You have step children.
- You or your partner are very elderly or have health concerns.
- You are cohabiting.
- You want to exclude someone who might expect to inherit.
- Your estate may be liable for inheritance tax.
- You suffer from mental health issues.
- Your assets include pensions or life assurance policies.
- You plan to get married or enter into a civil partnership.
These are just a few examples of where a solicitor’s involvement would be valuable. In each of the above scenarios, wider advice is needed beyond the basic wills that are produced by online wizards. A solicitor will also make comprehensive notes which can be referred to later if needed. Should a claim be made against your estate in the future, these notes may help demonstrate your true intentions or prove that you had the mental capacity required to make a Will. There is a strong presumption that a testator (the person making the Will) has the required mental capacity, where an ‘experienced will writer’ such as a solicitor is used.
Another aspect of online will writing services that lets people down is the potential for mistakes in execution. No matter how much guidance is provided on properly signing a will, mistakes are still made. These include everything from allowing a beneficiary or their spouse to witness the will (which renders any gift to them void); to allowing the witnesses to sign separately on different days (this really does happen!). When you use a solicitor, the will is either executed at their offices or the document is checked when it is returned to them.
Clearly using a solicitor has many advantages. It ensures that issues are identified that you didn’t even know were issues, and that your wishes are properly recorded in the correct legal format. Having the peace of mind that a solicitor-led service provides is worth the few extra pounds that proper advice costs.
To find out the cost of making a Will using a qualified, and insured Will Writer in Southport, make a free enquiry using the form below.