Writing a will is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your affairs are in order as you reach old age.
In this guest post, Ramsdens Solicitors share ten of the most common mistakes people make when writing a will.
Having a will in place helps to provide considerable peace of mind. However, this can be cancelled out if you fail to write a will that’s comprehensive, properly thought out and legally binding.
If you’re writing one for the first time, it can be easy to neglect a key detail that will mean your will does not provide the right level of protection. This could have negative consequences for your family later down the line. With that said, here are 10 of the most common will-writing mistakes to look out for.
1. Leaving out assets
Writing a will is all about ensuring that your various belongings and assets – collectively known as your estate – are distributed to your preferred beneficiaries after you die. However, this cannot happen if you do not include them in the will.
Most people will always remember to include their most obviously valuable assets, such as their money, house or expensive heirlooms; other assets are less tangible and easier to forget about, such as bank accounts, shares and premium bonds.
It is also worth thinking about your digital assets. You may want to include provisions for what will happen to your online accounts and social media profiles.
2. Being too specific in describing your assets
Generally speaking, it’s better to be specific when writing legal documents to avoid any ambiguity about your intentions. But, when writing a will, there can be instances where being too specific can create problems when circumstances change.
If, for example, you specify the name and model of the car you currently own, it can make it harder to determine your intentions if you have replaced that car with another model by the time you die; without updating the will accordingly.
In order to avoid this confusion, or the need to constantly be updating the will to amend these specifics, it may be better to describe assets like this in more general terms, such as “the car that is currently in my name”.
3. Forgetting to properly cater for stepchildren
On the other hand, there are certain areas where specific detail is an important requirement, and making provisions for stepchildren is one of them. If your will refers to “your children”, it is vital to note that this does not automatically include stepchildren or foster children, unless you stipulate this outright.
Although legally adopted children are automatically classed as having the same status as biological children, you will need to make sure that any other children in your care are catered for specifically by your will.
4. Failing to account for what will happen if your beneficiaries die before you
When writing a will, you will usually be working from the assumption that all of your beneficiaries will outlive you. However, this is not always the case in practice, and it is vital that your will accounts for this reality.
When writing the will, you should include backup plans for what should happen and who should receive an inheritance if your stated beneficiaries die before you. This may require you to think through multiple different scenarios and come up with contingencies for each, in order to help avoid future legal disputes.
5. Using an invalid witness
Once written, your will will need to be legally validated before it can be considered binding. This means signing it in the presence of two valid witnesses – a process that many people get wrong.
For a will to be valid, the witnesses must be:
- Over the age of 18
- UK citizens
- Physically present during the signing of the will
- Individuals who are not named as beneficiaries in the will, or married to someone who is
If you get this wrong, the will could be invalidated. Similarly, you could end up inadvertently disinheriting a family member who was improperly used as a witness. To avoid this, it is vital to choose your witnesses correctly.
6. Selecting inappropriate executors
It is also important to exercise care when selecting who will be responsible for executing your will and administering your estate after you die. Anyone over the age of 18 can be chosen to execute a will, even if they are a beneficiary of the will; however, not everyone will necessarily be a suitable choice.
You should look to choose someone who you know will be committed to carrying out your wishes; and will have the time and ability to take on the responsibility. If they live abroad, for example, this could create complications and delays with executing the will.
Additionally, many people simply forget to name executors in their will. This means the probate court will have to appoint an executor that may not be your first choice. Only by thinking carefully about choosing the right executor – or multiple executors – can you avoid this.
7. Failing to update the will after major life events
One of the most vital things to remember about writing a will is that it should not be a one-time process. Failing to update your will after major changes in your life circumstances can result in significant omissions, or even invalidate the existing will completely.
For example, if you get married or enter a new civil partnership, your existing will is automatically revoked. Other major events that can necessitate a significant change to your will include:
- a divorce,
- the loss of a family member,
- the birth of another child or grandchild,
- the purchase of a new property.
Keeping your will up to date will help ensure your most current wishes are the ones that will be respected.
8. Changing a will after it has been signed and witnessed
If you are updating a will, it is essential to follow the proper procedure. If your will has already been signed and witnessed, you cannot simply add to or change the text without having these new additions validated as well.
This means making an official alteration called a ‘codicil’, which needs to be signed and witnessed in the same way as the main document. You can add as many codicils as are needed over time, or you can simply make a new will to replace the old one.
9. Making a DIY will
When writing a will, some people choose to try and do it themselves rather than consulting a solicitor, but this approach is fraught with potential risks. Wills are complex legal documents that must be written and phrased according to specific rules in order to be comprehensive and binding.
As the above mistakes demonstrate, there is significant scope for small errors and ambiguities to greatly complicate the process of executing the will, or to render it invalid. It is always best to seek professional advice on how to properly write your will.
10. Neglecting to write a will in the first place
Failing to write a will at all is perhaps the most significant mistake a person can make. If you die without a will, your estate will be distributed according to intestacy rules. Your family will then have no control over the distribution of your assets.
Beneficiaries will be chosen according to a strict legal hierarchy. Closest blood relations will take priority in a way that does not account for the specific dynamics of your family. This can lead to certain loved ones being left with nothing, or significant amounts being claimed by the government in tax.
These outcomes can also arise if the will you have written is declared invalid. This means it is vital to find and correct any potential errors as soon as possible. By working with a legal team to avoid these errors, you can have full confidence that your will includes everything you need.
Having a correctly drawn up and up-to-date will, will give you peace of mind that your family and loved ones will be taken care of.