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Watch out for this Wills scam

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Everyone should write a Will, but make sure you don't get caught out by dodgy will-writers.


Here at lovemoney.com, we frequently stress the importance of writing a Will. Michael Jackson’s sudden death last year only highlighted this after he left his affairs in a complete mess.

What’s more, The Telegraph recently reported a case in which a woman was forced to sue her children in order to get full access to her husband’s estate after he died without making a Will.

The simple fact of the matter is, writing a Will can save a lot of heart-ache and stress if tragedy strikes.

Watch out for Will-writers

Unfortunately, however, even if you do have a Will drawn up, it’s not always plain-sailing. Recent research from Landmark Information Group has reported that 73% of us don’t have a Will that clearly documents our current financial assets, including pension plans and life policies. As a result, we’re running the risk that our Will won’t be valid, and our beneficiaries – whether they are our children or partner – will lose out on their inheritance.

More and more people are starting to use Will-writing services to draw up their Will instead of going to a solicitor, simply because fees are generally considered to be lower. Yet worryingly, earlier this month, a BBC Panorama documentary revealed that many Will-writing services are charging outrageously high fees to write Wills that are often not legally binding.

The Panorama investigation uncovered cases where initial Will-writing fees of £75-100 escalated into thousands of pounds, with clients and families of the deceased then being charged fee percentages for handling estates after death, which they were never informed about.

In one incident, a Will was actually lost – despite the fact a fee was being charged for it to be safely stored. In other cases, beneficiaries had a hard time receiving their money, and cheques from the company they were dealing with bounced.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that Will-writers are not regulated as strictly as traditional law firms or financial companies. As a result, they may not have sufficient insurance and customers don’t have access to places such as the Financial Ombudsman Service, should something go wrong. This has prompted calls for the private Will-writing industry to be more tightly regulated.

Dying without a Will can cause a financial mess for those you leave behind

Tips for writing a Will

If you do need to draw up a Will, to ensure you don't run into trouble and get caught out by Will-writing scams, make sure you follow these top tips.

Who should write it?

To ensure your Will is accurate and legal, it’s generally advisable to get a solicitor to draw it up for you. A solicitor can give you legal advice on more complicated matters such as Inheritance Tax, and can ensure there are no errors in the Will. Solicitors’ fees can vary but typically you’re looking to pay between £150 to £200.

Of course, if you think solicitors’ fees are too high, you don’t have to rule out Will-writers all together as not all of them are out to scam you! However, it is important to remember that unlike solicitors, they don’t have to be qualified or regulated.

So if you are going to use a Will-writer you need to ensure he/she is a member of a recognised trade body such as the Institute of Professional Willwriters or The Society of Will Writers. That’s because this means they must follow a Code of Practice which covers the training and assessment of Will writers. What’s more, there’s a complaints procedure which can help you to sort out problems if anything goes wrong.

Finally, you could simply write your Will yourself using a DIY kit from your local stationers. However, these forms can be tricky to fill out and it’s easy to make mistakes – invalidating your Will. So unless you’re super confident and your Will is extremely straightforward, DIY Wills are probably best avoided.

Free Wills

It’s worth noting that in some cases, it’s possible to get a Will written for free. October marks Free Wills Month in which a number of solicitors offer their services for charitable donations. Anyone aged 55 or over can have a basic Will drawn up by a solicitor for free. You can find out exactly which areas the campaign will cover here.

Alternatively, every November, Will Aid works with solicitors in the UK to run National Make a Will month. Similarly, the scheme allows solicitors up and down the country to donate their time and support for charity – which means you don’t have to pay to have a Will drawn up.

That said, because this is for charity, it’s suggested that you pay £75 for a single Will or £110 for a pair of mirror Wills (where a husband and wife or partner make almost identical Wills).           

Finally, another option to look at is Totallyfreewills which offers you the opportunity to write your own Will for free. Your Will is then confirmed as legal by one of its participating solicitors. After that, your Will is sent to you for signing and witnessing and you can then send it back to your solicitor for safe-keeping. And all of this is free! Just bear in mind this is really only suitable for those of you who have a very basic Will. If things are a little more complicated, you’ll be much better off paying for a solicitor to write your Will for you.

What should I include?

It’s worth thinking about exactly what you want included in your Will. Work out how much money, property and other possessions you have – don’t forget to include savings, pensions, insurance policies and shares.

Consider who you want to benefit from your Will and make a list of all the people (your beneficiaries) to whom you want to leave your money or possessions. When doing this, be specific as possible and don’t use nicknames.

Recent question on this topic

Also consider whether you want to leave any money to charity, and if you have kids under 18 (16 in Scotland), think about who is going to look after them should you die.

Who should I choose as executors?

You need to appoint between one and four executors – it’s advisable to have more than one in case one of them dies before you do. Typical executors include relatives or friends, solicitors or accountants, and banks.

The job of an executor is to take responsibility for carrying out your wishes and for sorting out your estate. So you might want to choose your executors carefully. If someone you appoint is not willing to be an executor, he/she has the right to refuse.

Final points

For a Will to be valid, it must be:

  • Made by a person who is aged 18 or over (12 in Scotland)
  • Made voluntarily
  • Made by a person of sound mind
  • In writing
  • Signed by the person making the Will in the presence of two witnesses
  • Signed by the two witnesses in the presence of the person making the Will. A witness cannot benefit from the Will.

It’s also important to review your Will regularly and make amendments where necessary. If your circumstances change significantly – such as you get married, divorced or separated, have children, or buy a house - it’s vital that you update your Will. An existing Will automatically becomes invalid if you marry.

You should also make sure you keep your Will in a safe place, such as at home, at a bank, or with your solicitor. You can find further tips on Will-writing and other important information about dying and bereavement (not the most cheery of subjects, I know) on the Dying Matters website.

Finally, bear in mind that Scottish law on inheritance differs from English law. You can check out the Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland for further information.

If you have an opinion on this topic, why not start a discussion in our Scams and Swindles group or our Family Finances group about it?

More: This pension mistake could destroy your finances | Ten ways to avoid Capital Gains Tax

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