We all know it is important to have a Will, but many of us simply have not yet found the time or got around to organising one. So, when we google “wills” and umpteen online ‘Will Kits’ appear we feel relieved. These on-line forms appear convenient – you just need to fill in the blanks – and they are often advertised as being free. But are they really the best option for you?

What is not made clear is that there are many possible pitfalls in preparing a Will without sound legal advice and the consequences may end up costing quite a few pounds more than you are attempting to save. This article discusses some of the more common problems with a Will Kit and what important aspects of inheritance law an experienced lawyer will address, that a Will Kit does not.

One size fits all, doesn’t it?

You and your family circumstances are unique, and therefore it makes sense that you would want to discuss your situation with the person who will draft your Will. When you complete an on-line Will form, you don’t get the chance to discuss your family and your circumstances, and a lawyer does not have the opportunity to identify issues unique to you, that may require to be addressed and approached with careful planning.

Your lawyer will take an holistic approach

A lawyer considers all aspects relevant to your estate plan. Not only is it important to plan how your assets are distributed when you die, but you need to provide for contingencies such as appointing legal guardians if you become incapacitated and are unable to manage your financial and personal affairs.

A lawyer will also consider how your assets are held – whether that is jointly or individually – as this can determine how and to whom those assets may be left. For example, when assets are held jointly with another person, the surviving person will automatically inherit the deceased person’s share when he or she dies. A contrary direction in a Will to leave that share to somebody other than the joint tenant will not override this legal principle. A lawyer will advise whether it is in your interests to sever the tenancy which will then enable you to leave your share to whomever you wish.

Pensions and other benefits

The value of your pension may be your biggest financial asset, worth more than your house. Yet, pensions, and any benefits payable on or after your death, are not always simply paid to your estate and strict rules are applied depending on whether it is a private or work pension, lump sum or annuity. A Will Kit will not usually consider your pension or other benefits. By contrast, your lawyer will discuss these additional factors with you at the time of drafting a Will to ensure that your loved ones receive what they should and that you are happy with the arrangements in place.

Different pensions and different beneficiaries are taxed differently and again your lawyer can advise on the tax implications so you can make an informed decision.

Ensuring flexibility

Much as we may like to, we cannot plan for all eventualities. Our circumstances change over time and a Will may not reflect these changes. You will want to make sure that people such as a child’s estranged partner or a stepchild of a partner you are no longer with, do not automatically receive any financial benefit from your Will. Equally you may want to make sure that any new family members which may have arrived after your Will was drafted are included as beneficiaries. A lawyer can draft a Will that covers these types of scenarios.

Protecting your assets and tax planning

A lawyer will advise on how to best structure your Will to protect your assets against distribution to an unintended beneficiary (such as the creditors of a bankrupt beneficiary). A testamentary discretionary trust may be recommended. This is a trust created in your Will that comes into effect after you die. The trust is administered by a pre-appointed trustee who determines how and when estate assets are managed and distributed.

With careful planning, the timing of transferring estate assets may also postpone or minimise capital gains tax liabilities. An on-line Will Kit is unlikely to consider these matters and, in any event, cannot provide the legal advice necessary to decide whether this type of Will is appropriate in your circumstances.

Conclusion

Planning your estate and having a Will in place gives you peace of mind. Your lawyer will ensure your Will is valid, correctly signed and witnessed and that it protects your assets and your beneficiaries. He or she will advise how future changes may affect your estate plan and will usually provide a friendly reminder to review your Will when your circumstances change.

Yes, you can prepare a valid Will on-line however, there is considerable risk that it will not be tailored to your unique circumstances, may not achieve exactly what you want, and may not take advantage of structures to protect assets and save tax.

Meeting with a lawyer to discuss your estate plans and finalise a well-considered Will that caters to your circumstances is money well spent.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (023) 9225 9822 or email [email protected]