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30 Jun 2022

Wills & Probate

Probate experts warning about the risks of online Will writing

With an increasing desire from people to get their affairs in order since the start of the pandemic, the popularity of online Will writing has risen sharply in the last two years. However, questions have emerged as to whether this new digital era of Will writing will lead to a surge in problems further down the line. Afonwy Howell-Pryce, an Associate Solicitor in our Wills and Probate team, explains the risks of writing your Will online.

The pandemic caused a significant rise in the number of people making a Will, and especially in the number choosing to do it themselves online. Back in the first lockdown in March 2020, the Law Society reported a 30% increase on the number of requests to create wills, with online services also attracting more interest. One such service, Farewill, reported a massive 267% increase in the number of Wills written at home between 2019 and 2020.

While online Will writers may appear to be a speedy and inexpensive alternative to using a solicitor – some offer Wills for less than twenty pounds and all completed in under 15 minutes! – it can be a real risk to go down this route.

If you are considering using an online Will writing service, you should bear the following points in mind:

Lack of regulation

Firms of solicitors are bound by regulations and standards, which guarantee a level of protection for their clients when drafting their Wills. They are also required to keep up to date with changes to the relevant laws to ensure their advice is accurate and their Wills are legally valid. However, the same checks are not in place for online Will writers as they are not all regulated and so do not have to adhere to the same standards.

Unlike solicitors, some online Will writers may not have adequate insurance in place, so if the Will doesn’t do what it is supposed to, and it’s not discovered until after the death of the testator, it can cause additional distress at what is already a difficult time.

Online Wills are not bespoke

Online Wills are usually drafted very quickly and are often computer-generated using a very simple template. Often, the process consists of just filling out a quick form and making a payment. While this may sound appealing to busy clients who are time poor, it is worth remembering that making a Will is an incredibly important process and should be afforded the right amount of time to make sure it is done properly.

When the process is completed online, the provider may not take the time to gather all the important information from their clients to make sure their Will suits their particular circumstances. Sometimes the online software will automatically appoint the Will writing company as the executor, which can then cause further complications.

As a result, online Wills may not be fit for purpose. The lack of bespoke advice could mean that parts – or even the entirety – of the will may not be valid.

Look out for hidden costs

Online Will writers often use misleading titles and include expensive hidden fees and charges in their terms and conditions, which can result in severe financial penalties for an estate later down the line. Some even charge fees for storing the will and then retrieving it.

The big cost, however, can come from the appointment of the Will writing company as the executor and dealing with the estate administration. Often the charge is a percentage based on the gross value of the estate. Whilst solicitors can also charge for their services in this way, most Wills & Probate solicitors will renounce their position as executor if asked to do so by the beneficiaries (this will depend on the circumstances and reasons why the firm were appointed.)

If an online Will writing company refused to do this, the only way to get them removed as executor would be through a court application, which could be very costly.

Remember too that costs will be incurred to correct a Will if it is not fit for purpose. Also, if the testator has passed away when these mistakes come to light, the financial burden will then pass to the estate and may reduce any inheritance.

Capacity Issues and Coercion

It is not always possible for online Will writing companies to confirm if the testator has the necessary mental capacity required to write a Will. This area of law is complex and requires someone who has the requisite skills to ask the right questions in order to ascertain capacity to write a will and also follow the relevant legal tests.

Further, when someone is not sitting in front of you it can be difficult to ascertain whether or not the person you are speaking to is doing so of their own free will and there is not someone with them or behind a screen coercing the client.

Clearly, this could lead to future claims against an estate that the Will is not valid and also opens up the potential for suspicions of fraud or the Will having been made under duress.

A badly drafted Will can cause more problems than no Will at all

If a Will has not been prepared properly, families could be in dispute as to how to resolve the problem.

Probate law is complex and unregulated online Will makers can easily make mistakes, either in drafting the Will or ensuring that the strict witnessing rules are properly followed when the Will is signed. As a result, more and more families are reporting receiving inadequate cover once a loved one has passed away.

After analysing 26 online Will writers, Funeral Solution Expert (FSE) found that the most common issue rising from such cover is that customers’ affairs are often mistaken as simple when they are actually much more complex than first thought. This is particularly true in modern family structures and with the rising value of property. The risk is that assets may go uncovered by the Will and these will then be automatically given to a relative but not necessarily the one the deceased intended.

Mistakes like this can result in Wills having to be rewritten by professional solicitors at a further cost, or assets being incorrectly presented to certain family members against the deceased’s wishes.

If you were to go to a professionally-trained solicitor in the first place, they would make sure every asset within your estate was accounted for and designated to the person you wanted it to go to.

The importance of making a Will

The potential pitfalls of using unregulated and uninsured Will writers who advertise their product at a cheap rate on the internet are clear. Although making a Will online may save a few pounds in the first instance, it is worth asking yourself if it is worth taking a risk with such an important legal document.

Making a proper, valid Will is the only way to make sure that your savings and possessions go to the people and causes that you care about. And if you have children under 18, one of the most important decisions to make is who will become their guardian if both parents die. If you don’t set this out in your Will, the courts will be left to decide who should raise your children.

When you consider how much your entire estate could be worth, and how important it is for your wishes to be followed after your days, surely it is worth using a professional for peace of mind that everything has been done correctly and the risks are kept to a minimum.

Get in touch…

If you would like to talk to one of our friendly, specialist team at Harding Evans in relation to writing or updating your Will, we have years of experience and can talk you through the whole process. Visit our website at www.hardingevans.com, email: hello@hevans.com or call us on 01633 244233 or 029 2267 6818.

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