Don't get ripped off making a Will

Make sure you don't get caught out by this big rip-off....

Writing a Will might sound like the type of thing you should only do when you’ve got one foot in the grave. But you couldn’t be more wrong. After all, unless you’re an expert at using a crystal ball, it’ll be impossible to speculate the precise moment you’re going to pop your clogs.

Writing a Will may not be the cheeriest of prospects, but if you die without making one, the law will decide what happens to your estate. And unless your circumstances are very straightforward, this could leave your loved ones in the middle of a financial nightmare.

If you have children under 18, you need to think about what would happen to them if the worst happened – and the best place to state what you want to happen to them is in your Will. Meanwhile, if you’re not married, your partner could be left with absolutely nothing if you haven’t written a Will.

Yes, life for the people left behind, life can be tough if you haven’t made a Will. So make sure it’s not your family that suffers.

The big rip-off

Writing a Will shouldn’t have to be ridiculously complicated. Unfortunately, however, there are ways you can get caught out and left out of pocket if you’re not careful.

Related how-to guide

Write a will

Find out why you need to make a will and how to do it.

Just last week, four of Britain’s biggest high street banks - Barclays, RBS/NatWest, Lloyds and HSBC - had to agree to improve the way they sell Will-writing and executor services, after the Office of Fair Trading expressed its concerns.

These concerns involved the fact that some customers were appointing professional executors without fully understanding the potential costs involved and alternative options.

The job of an executor is to take responsibility for carrying out your wishes in your Will and sorting out your estate. Many people appoint two executors, although you can appoint up to four.

But while you should choose your executors carefully, there is no legal requirement for you to appoint a professional executor, such as a bank or solicitor. Instead, a responsible family member or friend could carry out the task of executor themselves – either alone or with some professional support.

However, banks have not been making this clear enough and instead, have been recommending that they be appointed as a professional executor when you die.

You might think that there is nothing wrong with this – after all, if your bank has helped you to write your Will, it seems fairly logical that your bank should then be an executor. 

But whereas the initial Will-writing service fee may have been quite reasonable, the costs for appointing a professional executor will be a lot higher - in fact, you could end up forking out between £3,000 and £9,000 for the privilege.

According to the OFT, failing to shop around and seek out alternative executor services means customers could be wasting around £40 million a year!

Don’t get caught out

The four banks have now agreed not to let customers believe that a professional executor is essential, and they will also avoid encouraging customers to appoint a professional executor unless it is genuinely in the customer’s best interests.

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

The banks will also have to be satisfied (before the Will has been written) that the customer has been given all the information needed to make an informed decision, and that the customer fully understands the options available to him/her, as well as the costs of using a professional executor.

Obviously, this is good news as it should mean fewer people will be ripped off by this outrageous tactic by the banks.

But if you are looking for an executor, it’s well worth taking the time to do some of your own research into all of the options and to check whether you’re really getting the best price.

Of course, the advantage of using a professional executor is that they have experience in these matters and they will be able to remain emotionally detached when you die – whereas a friend or relative will find it more upsetting and therefore may find the job of executor that much harder.

But, on the flipside, you’ll be paying out far more for those professional services and you may actually prefer to have someone who knows you and your family personally to be your executor. So if you’re comfortable with a friend or relative being your executor – particularly if your Will is very straightforward – this might be the right choice for you.

Other points to note

If you're not sure how to go about writing a Will, you can get a solicitor to do it - this is particularly beneficial if your Will is complicated as the solicitor can give you legal advice. Solicitors' fees usually cost between £150 and £200.

Alternatively, you could consider a Will-writer. Just bear in mind Will-writers don't have to be qualified or regulated - unlike solicitors. So make sure he/she is a member of a recognised trade body such as the Institute of Professional Willwriters or The Society of Will Writers.

And finally, you could simply write your Will yourself using a DIY kit from your local stationers. However, the downside to this is that these forms can be tricky to fill out and it's easy to make mistakes. So they are usually only best for those of you who have an extremely straightforward Will. You can find out more in Make a Will for £10.

When working out what you want to be included in your Will, you need to work out how much money, property and other possessions you have – don’t forget to include savings, pensions, insurance policies and shares when you calculate this.

You should also think about who your beneficiaries will be – it’s a good idea to make a list of all the people you want to benefit from your Will.

Once your Will has been written, make sure you keep it in a safe place, such as at home, at a bank or with your solicitor. And don’t forget to keep your Will updated. If your circumstances change significantly, for example, if you get married or divorced, if you have children, or if you buy a house, you need to update your Will. An existing Will automatically becomes invalid if you marry.

More: Watch out for this Wills scam | Write a Will and avoid the red tape of death

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