DIY wills – writing your own will

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DIY wills – writing your own will

If you’re thinking of writing your own will to save money, you might want to think again. There are some challenges and risks – and using a service that offers advice needn’t break the bank.

Can I write my own will?

There’s no law that says you have to use a lawyer or a specialist to write your will. And you can buy off-the-shelf kits that let you do it yourself. But, unless you’re a lawyer – and one with the right expertise – there’s a risk you’ll get it wrong. And, let’s face it, it’s not a fun way to spend your spare time.

You have two options for writing your own will: literally writing down what you want, or using a kit. In both cases they’ll only be valid if you and two witnesses sign them. (And there are rules about who those witnesses can be.)

You probably wouldn’t be tempted to just wing it – especially when you can get a kit from Amazon for just £6.99. But, just in case you are, we suggest you don’t. There are some general rules for what you need to say and how you should say it. Not sticking to those could make your will at best unclear and at worst invalid.

If it’s not valid, it might as well not exist. If that happened, the rules that say who gets what when someone dies without a will would apply. Those ‘intestacy’ rules might not match what you’d have wanted. And they could spell money trouble for people who rely on you.

Won’t using a kit guarantee the will is valid?

Kits usually have templates with standard wording, but the company that created the template isn’t responsible for your will being valid. So, if you include the wrong section or tweak any wording that means the will isn’t legal, there’s no one else to blame. Even if it is legal, you might end up with grey areas that lead to disputes or delays in sorting things out. That could be dangerous: if someone relies on you, for example, it might be essential for that financial support to carry on.

You can avoid these problems if you get professionals involved. And it’s important that you do in some circumstances.

Why would I need help?

You’re likely to need some advice or support if:

  • you’ve got several marriages or civil partnerships behind you
  • you own property overseas
  • you have foreign investments or bank accounts
  • you own a business
  • people who aren’t family depend on you
  • you need to think about inheritance tax – if your estate (everything you leave minus any money you owe) is worth over £325,000. That figure might not sound relevant now, but remember the value of your estate could mount up over time.

The value of your estate could go down as well as up. Your family circumstances might change. Without an expert in your corner, you might trip up over these things.

Is there anyone who’d be okay with a kit?

The Money Advice Trust Service suggests you should be safe using a kit if things are really simple. That would mean you want to leave everything to your spouse or civil partner or, if they die before you, you want to leave everything to your children. You’ll need to use your spouse or partner’s full name and spell it accurately. And you have to make sure the will is witnessed and signed properly.

But this doesn’t allow for changes in circumstances – and there’s always the risk you’ll miss something going through the process.

A useful low-cost option is to use an online service. You answer questions online that filter through to templates. There should be a helpline, and experts will check over your document to make sure it’s valid. Then they’ll post you a hard copy to sign.

In a nutshell

It’s possible to write your own will, but it needn’t cost too much to get some help. And that way you can rest assured that the will is valid and won’t be open to misinterpretation. But it doesn’t necessarily mean running up a big solicitor’s bill. Online services are a useful option. They let you go at your own pace but give more support than using a kit, often for a set fee.

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