Where There's A Will…
As much as we do not like to think about it, as the adage goes, the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Despite this, according to Which?*, over half the population in the UK does not have a Will.
There are a myriad of options out there to put a Will in place and sometimes whom to use to draft this important document can be as confusing as the content itself.
A well-known British retailer offers the 'do-it-yourself' option and there are numerous online providers. The advantage of this is that they are easy to access and often a fair bit cheaper than engaging a professional. However, for all the home-made Wills I have seen that are perfectly valid, there have been a large number more that have not been completed properly, or were inappropriate for the person's estate. This then means extra costs for the family to sort out the mess or, at worst, costly litigation. As such, if you have anything but the most simple of estates, this option is best avoided. Even then, it is worthwhile asking a professional to cast their eye over it (even if there is a fee, it is likely to be less than their normal rate) to ensure it is valid.
The most sensible choice, therefore, is to use a professional. However, should this be a will writer or a solicitor? Currently, the term 'will writer' is not a protected one – i.e. anyone can claim to be an expert will writer without having any qualifications or experience. Writing a Will can be a complex business and it is essential that the drafter understands the tax and other implications of what they are creating. There are some excellent will writers out there, but not all are created equal.
Often, using a solicitor is seen as the gold standard, but even then, the prospective client should be wary – what experience does this person have? Are they drafting Wills as an add-on to their practice or are they an expert in it? At least, however, if everything does go wrong, the firm is required to have professional indemnity insurance and there is, as a last resort, recourse through the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Both options do tend to mean that solicitors costs are slightly higher than a will writing company.
It is often only when the testator dies and the Will goes to probate that a shoddily drafted document comes to light, so it is imperative that the right questions are asked at the outset.
A good indication that you have someone with a deep understanding of this area of law is that they have the letters 'TEP' after their name. This means that they are a full member of the 'Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners' (STEP) and have either completed a rigorous set of exams or submitted essays and passed in the areas of Wills, Trusts and Probate.
Other questions to be asked are 'what are your qualifications?' and 'how long have you been drafting Wills?' as well as 'do you understand the tax implications of your advice?' and 'what professional memberships are you part of?' If the professional you are considering engaging cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction, do not be afraid to go elsewhere – your family will thank you for putting your affairs properly in order when the time comes.
Helen Calcutt TEP