We often get asked to comment on Wills that a person has drawn up themselves or has prepared via an internet based provider. The number one question asked is “Are they legally valid?”. The second is “Are they worth the paper they are written on?”.
To be legally valid, a Will must be written on paper and must be signed by the person making the Will in the presence of 2 independent witnesses. You need to have made the Will of your own free will and also you need to be capable of making a Will at the time you make it. So if you draw up your own Will or you get one prepared via the internet and you satisfy those basic conditions, you are likely to have a valid Will on your hands.
Question 2 “Is the Will worth the paper it is written on?” is answered with the standard lawyer’s answer of “It depends!”. You might have a valid Will but, when it comes to your dying day, will that Will direct your assets where you actually intend? And this is where people come unstuck……here are two real life examples.
Case Study 1
A married couple had separated but continued to live together whilst they were formalising their divorce.
They had a child together and each agreed to not make a Will until the divorce was finalised, so that should either of them pass away during the divorce, the survivor would still inherit the other’s estate to care for their child. The Husband however “discovered” on the parties laptop, a Will that his Wife had prepared via an internet provider. The Will had cost £9.99 to download and left her estate to the child directly, contrary to their agreement. The Husband contacted us as his Wife had signed this Will and it had been witnessed correctly and he was naturally worried he would lose his home if his Wife died before they divorced and settled the finances.
We learnt from the Husband that the parties house was held as joint tenants and all their bank accounts and investments were all held in joint names. The Wife did not actually have anything in her sole name. We were able to advise the Husband that as the assets were owned in this way, should his Wife die, those assets would pass to him automatically as the survivor, outside of the terms of the Will.
So, in this case, the Will wasn’t worth the paper it was written on if the Husband survived his Wife.
Case Study 2
A single lady with a sizeable estate prepared a Will with an internet provider. The process had involved her ticking which clauses she thought were appropriate to go in her Will and completing personal details of assets and family members. Considering she had little legal knowledge the Will was not actually too bad and it had been executed correctly, so it was legally valid.
In the Will, the lady had included a specific clause leaving her company shares in “X Limited” to a family member. However, when we looked at the lady’s assets, we looked at the structure of the company and found that, whilst she believed she held shares in “X Limited”, the shares were owned by a holding company “X Holdings Limited” instead. The shares the lady owned were actually in “X Holdings Limited”. Therefore, the gift in her Will of the shares in “ X Limited” would have failed as she didn’t actually own any shares in that company! Showing again that a Will may be valid but may not be worth the paper it is written on.
A Will is an important document, which only gets “tested” when you actually pass away and, of course, it’s then too late to change it if there is a problem. We recommend a professionally drawn Will where full consideration is given to your family structure; your assets and what you want to actually achieve.
Put a Will in place that is worth the paper it’s written on. Contact Adam Penn or Joanna Parkin on 01543 440 308 for further information.