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You can buy a pack from the supermarket or newsagent, or download a form from the internet and make your own Will. There are lots of Will Writing companies around too. A Will is a legal document containing your directions about who should deal with your estate and who should receive the assets in your estate in the event of your death.
So why do you need a solicitor? Here are 9 very good reasons why...
1. Getting it wrong!
Sadly, we see all too many home-made Wills that just do not work. People die thinking they have left a Will but because they did not have the legal knowledge and expertise of a solicitor, their “Will” just isn’t worth the paper it is written on. Will writers do not have to have any legal training. A solicitor will have years of training and experience behind them, and will prepare a Will that really will carry out your wishes on your death.
If it does go wrong, what redress will you have? Whereas Will-writers are completely unregulated, solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This means that you have someone to complain to if your solicitor does make a mistake, or if you are not happy with their service. All solicitors also have to carry professional indemnity insurance, so there will be funds to compensate you for any loss you or your estate have suffered as a result. Because there is no governing body for Will writers, they do not have a complaints body, nor do they have to carry insurance.
3. Safe storage of your Will
If you have made a Will, you want to know that it is somewhere safe, confidential and can be found when it is needed. The Solicitors Regulation Authority sets out rules for solicitors keeping Wills. We have heard of Will writers who keep them in an unlocked drawer, at home and even some who don’t keep them at all. What’s more, if a Will writer goes out of business, there is a good chance that any Wills they are keeping will be lost. If a solicitors’ practice goes out of business or is taken over, the Solicitors Regulation Authority keeps track of who takes over custody of all the Wills they were keeping.
4. Things you might not know
A properly trained solicitor will not only put your wishes down on paper as you instruct, they will also identify anything that you didn’t realise was an issue. For example, you may be able to save inheritance tax through your Will. Or you may be able to set up trusts in your Will to protect vulnerable beneficiaries. Your Will needs to cater for all sorts of eventualities and you might not have thought of them all. A solicitor will have the experience to help you clarify your own ideas.
After your death, your executors will carry out the instructions contained in your Will. It is vital that those instructions are clear, otherwise the executors may not understand what you really wanted to achieve. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your Will will be totally “jargon-free” (although we do try to use Plain English where we can!) sometimes it is important to use a word with a specific legal meaning, to avoid ambiguity. Small differences in the wording of gifts can produce quite different results. Home made Wills and non-professionally drawn Wills are often unclear and uncertain and the consequences can be expensive to sort out and put right.
6. Challenges post-death
A Will can be challenged after your death if there is doubt about the circumstances in which the Will was made, for example doubt about your mental capacity, or whether you made your Will under pressure from someone else. A Solicitor will try to ensure that any doubts are removed at the time the Will is made. Arguments about your Will after you have died can result in unnecessary distress, expense and bitterness.
There are strict rules governing how a Will must be signed and witnessed to be valid. It is easy to fall foul of these if you don’t know the rules which could mean that your Will is worthless.
If you make your Will through your Bank, the bank will insist that you appoint them as your executors. They can then re-coup the cost of making your Will when they deal with administering your estate. Because solicitors operate under a code of professional ethics, we leave the choice of executors entirely up to you. We would be happy to act as your executors if you wish, but will not insist upon it. It is your Will, your money, your family. You should decide who to appoint.
9. When should I review my Will?
You should check that your Will still reflects your wishes every 3 - 5 years or when there are major changes in your life such as moving house, marriage, divorce, births and deaths.
Changing your Will can be easy. For small changes you can add an additional document called a Codicil. Larger changes may need a new Will.