A will needs to be treated with the same degree of caution with which you would approach any legal document. Unfortunately, many families will understand the pain of dealing with an invalid or poorly written will, even though the common mistakes are easily avoided…
1. The will has been incorrectly witnessed
Like any legal document, the testator needs to ensure that their will has been witnessed properly. There are not too many requirements for witnesses, but it is very important you do not stray from them. Witnesses cannot be family, for instance, but far too many wills are witnessed by the testator’s partner or child.
2. The will is out of date
Wills don’t have a ‘sell by’ date on them and, once written, they could (theoretically) last the rest of your life.
In practice, however, it’s not that simple. Most of us will go through our fair share of life changes after completing our wills, from getting married (or divorced) to welcoming children and grandchildren into the world, gaining new assets, or losing loved ones.
These major changes will mean that an old will no longer reflects your wishes for the future, and undermines the value the will holds for your family.
3. Changes are made after it was signed
Once signed, most changes will necessitate a new will. Some minor changes can be made to an existing will using a codicil but, for the most part, changes cannot be made after the will has been signed.
4. Assets are overlooked
Wills are there to make the process of splitting your estate between beneficiaries simple, and circumvent the risk of disputes or rifts from opening up. If important assets (whether financially or sentimentally valuable) are overlooked, this undermines the point of the will.
5. Guardians aren’t mentioned
Wills aren’t there just to offer a roadmap for your assets, but also to ensure that solid plans are in place for any dependents you may have. From children to pets, choosing guardians (and naming them) is vital.
6. Stepchildren are accidentally excluded
Biological children have an automatic right to inherit a portion of your estate unless they have been expressly disinherited from your will. Stepchildren, however, have no legal right to an inheritance from you, which means naming them is essential.
7. The will is too specific
While it is vital that you are clear about which family member stands to inherit what, being too specific can make things very complicated. If you replace an asset with one of a similar value, but slightly different characteristics – for instance, if you replace a white grand piano with a black one, but specifically state that you wish for a particular person to inherit your white grand piano, it gets a lot harder for everyone to feel confident in their inheritance.
This may mean that will dispute solicitors have to be brought into the equation – first, to try to mediate the situation then, if that doesn’t work, to take the problem to court.
8. Executors are overlooked/inappropriate
Appointing an executor whose job it is to carry out your wishes is vital. If you fail to do this, your loved ones may find it a lot harder to sort through your estate.
9. There is no original copy
Often, your solicitor will house the original copy of your will securely. While copies can be made, it is vital – from a legal standpoint – that the whereabouts of the original is known.
10. The will has not been written by someone with the testamentary capacity to do so
One of the most devastating reasons why a will may be considered invalid is that the testator lacked the testamentary capacity at the time of writing. This is why it is so important that we all work on our wills sooner rather than later. If we fall ill, we may not be considered to have the sound mind needed to sign a legal document.
11. The will has not been written with the help and guidance of an experienced solicitor
DIY wills are gaining momentum, but the risks of using one of these at-home kits to create your will are not worth the small amount of time and money you will save. Creating a will is complex and, even if you manage to write a valid DIY will, you may overlook important considerations.
12. None of it has been put on paper
Many people like to assume that their family knows them well enough to sort through their assets themselves. They may have a conversation about inheritance, and assume that that will be enough.
Unfortunately, it’s a big risk to take. Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy – and that may preclude certain loved ones from having a legal right to anything.
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