Makeshift security – the dangers of home-made Wills

11 February 2016

Home-made Wills. They can be a nightmare for solicitors and executors alike. There are hundreds of packages available – online and in the shops – that claim to allow people to write their own Will and Testament. But Wills written by the public often lead to insecure or unclear arrangements.

Home-made Wills are often not sufficiently thorough to cover all eventualities. Your circumstances and your assets are unique to you, and the older you get, the more complex your situation can become.

Life gets complicated

Families are often more complicated, with divorces, remarriages, and step-children, and a rising number of people in the UK own properties abroad.

Without the advice of an expert solicitor, the arrangements necessary to secure these assets in the case of your death may not be made, leading to distressing complications for your loved ones later.

A recent case highlights why you should always seek the advice of an expert solicitor, and treat home-made Wills with utmost caution.

Controversy arose

Four charities named as Dorothy Whelan’s beneficiaries recently defeated a claim that she executed a second, home-made Will leaving her entire estate to a friend.

The initial Will was made in 1982 and although only a copy survives, its legitimacy was secured by the circumstances in which it was made, as one of a pair of mirror Wills prepared for Mrs Whelan and her husband by their solicitor. Both Wills left everything to the holder’s respective spouse or, in the case of their death, to charity.

Following Mrs Whelan’s death, controversy arose when a close friend, Hazel Turner’s family stepped forward with another Will, supposedly drafted at home and witnessed in 1999.

Invalid will

The charities – the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Marie Curie and the Institute of Cancer Research – challenged the Will which left out the charities and instead, split the £1.8 million estate equally between Mrs Turner and another close friend.

The charities considered this Will invalid due to the circumstances in which it was executed. Forensic evidence suggested that when the 1999 Will was witnessed, Hazel Turner’s own Will had been sitting directly beneath it. The witnesses attested that they had not seen Mrs Whelan sign the document in person, although there was little doubt she had done so.

Solicitor means security

The evidence presented led the judge to accept the charities’ claim, and the 1982 Will, overseen by a solicitor, was admitted to probate. This highlights the importance of having a solicitor oversee the writing of your Will – had the 1999 will been properly attested, it would have been considered valid.

Solicitors know all that is needed to produce a fully secure Will, so that you can focus on making decisions about your estate safe in the knowledge that your Will’s legitimacy will not be challenged after your death.

Speaking to an expert is the best way to ensure that nothing is missed and to protect your assets and your wishes should anything happen to you.

Looking to make or update your Will? Find your local professional advisor

Rachel Eames, marketing officer at DBS Law Ltd