14 common mistakes to avoid when writing a will
Our Wills and Probate team have compiled the most common mistakes they see when dealing with wills to ensure you don’t make the same blunders.
Many would argue that a will is the most important document in your life. It is the document that can guarantee your wishes are carried out after you have passed away. It is staggering, then, that nearly two-thirds of the UK do not have one.
Even if you have been proactive and created a will, your loved ones may still be in for a shock after you have died. The laws surrounding wills are often complex meaning there is room for mistakes when writing one. Simple mistakes can lead to disinheriting a loved one. It can open the door for the contents of the will to be disputed and can potentially lead the will to be completely void.
Mistakes in a will are usually only discovered after the owner of the will has died, meaning it is left to the friends and family to sort out the mess.
To avoid this potential ordeal, we explore the most common errors we see to ensure your will is mistake-free. If you'd like to learn more about this topic, speak to our wills & probate team today about their expert will writing services.
1. The will was incorrectly witnessed
In order for a will to be valid it must have been signed in the presence of two people who:
- Are UK citizens, 18 and over
- Are not named as beneficiaries in the will, or are married to someone who is
These two witnesses must be physically present at the time of signing the will, otherwise it will be deemed void.
2. Asking a child or partner to be a witness
As the witnesses cannot benefit from the will, asking a child or partner to witness the signing could potentially disinherit them from the will. Make sure the witnesses have no potential to gain anything from the will.
3. Having an out of date will
Many people do not realise that big life events can change how a will could work. These can be big events in your life such as:
- The birth of another child/grandchild
- A marriage or divorce
- The loss of a loved one
- Buying a new house
Ensuring you have an up to date will means that there is no room for confusion after these events.
4. Making changes to your will after it has been signed
Having said this, it is not as easy as simply writing a note on the existing will. You cannot make amendments to your will after it has been signed and witnessed.
To make changes to an existing will you will have to make an official alteration called a codicil, or you can alternatively make a new will altogether. A codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same way as a will. There are no limits to the number of codicils you can add to a will, although making a new will may be more straightforward.
5. Forgetting Assets
When noting down the assets to pass onto loved ones, many people remember the tangible assets; the car, the house, the watch. Very often, however, they forget some of the more intangible assets.
Make sure you remember all of the bank accounts, premium bonds, shares and any other potential funds you may have. It may be worth thinking about your digital footprint too. This may include your social media accounts, digital photos, music, and other online accounts.
6. Failing to appoint guardians
If you have young children, it is important to think about who you would like to care for them after you die. If you are the only surviving parent and you do not choose a guardian for your children in your will, this decision could potentially go to the family courts. Ensure this headache does not happen by naming the guardian(s) in your will.
7. Excluding any step-children
If you have step-children with a partner, simply stating “my children” in your will may lead to confusion and will not automatically cover them. This applies even if you have raised them from birth. If you want your step-children to be included in your will, make sure you explicitly mention them.
Legally adopted children will be considered the same as biological children, however.
8. Being too specific
Many people are very specific when they write their will. While solicitors advise being specific about certain things, being overly specific can also be detrimental due to circumstances changing.
For example, if you wish to leave one of your children the “black BMW” but you later sell this car after the will has been signed, it can lead to confusion and potential disputes.
To avoid this, either update your will periodically, or keep it a little less specific in certain areas. For example, general descriptions of assets, such as “the car that is in my name”.
9. Forgetting to name an executor/Appointing inappropriate executors
An executor is someone who deals with the administration of your estate after you have died. An executor has the responsibility to carry out the deceased’s wishes, as written down in their will.
In many cases, family and/or friends will be the executor/s of the will. People can also appoint professional executors (a solicitor).
However, many people forget to name executors in their will. When this happens, the probate court will appoint an executor, who may not be the deceased first choice.
Make sure you also appoint an appropriate executor to fulfill your wishes. Hold ups will occur when you appoint someone who lives abroad, or simply someone who doesn’t feel capable of carrying out your wishes due to not having the time.
10. Not having an original copy
Many people make photocopies of their will thinking that this is valid. However, your executors will need the original copy of the will to legally administer your estate.
Without the original, your executors may run into a bit of trouble getting a grant of probate to manage your affairs.
11. Lacking full capacity
Disputes can arise when someone challenges whether the deceased had full capacity when they wrote the will. This means you need to be of sound mind when making it.
For example, if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs when writing the will, its validity could be contested.
12. Not accounting for debts
An important duty of the person administering an estate is to pay the debts of the deceased. Before an estate is distributed, the legitimate debts must be worked out and paid.
One of the most common types of debt is a mortgage. This can take a fair chunk of the estate away.
13. Making a “DIY” will
People often believe writing their wishes down on a bit of paper is enough for them to be legally binding. Put simply, it is not. As you can see with the previous mistakes, wills are very complicated documents and follow general rules.
If your language is ambiguous or your intentions are not clear it could lead to instructions not being followed properly or the will being ruled invalid.
Ensure you seek professional advice when writing a will, and that all of the proper steps are taken, including having the will witnessed.
14. Not having a will in the first place
This is the biggest mistake of all!
If you die without a will you will have died intestate. Intestacy, which is the condition of the estate of a person who dies without having made a valid will, follows a set of rules laid down by law which stipulate how the estate is to be administered if there is no will.
The rules of intestacy follow a hierarchy of who should benefit from the estate. This order is as follows:
- Spouse or civil partner
- Brothers and sisters
- Uncles and aunts
The highest existing and surviving relative will take priority. Clearly, this may not be an ideal situation for the deceased, which is why would highly advise you to make a will.
How Percy Hughes & Roberts can help
At Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated will writing solicitors who are ready to help you resolve your query or issue relating to this area of the law as quickly and effectively as possible.
If you need assistance with writing a will, making a change to a will, or simply want general advice, our Wirral Wills and Probate solicitors have a wealth of experience.
Contact Percy Hughes & Roberts
To speak to a wills and probate solicitor for advice, contact Percy Hughes & Roberts for a no-obligation phone consultation today. We provide ourselves on offering expert advice that's easy to understand, and we will be with you through every step of the legal process.