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Making a will

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:31 UK time, Monday, 19 October 2009

Would you know how to go about making a will and making sure it is legally sound?

They say in life there are only two things you can be sure of: death and taxes. In the event of your death a badly written will, or in fact not having one, can leave your nearest and dearest coping with far more than the grief of your demise.

But despite this a startling 56% of us don't have a will according to consumer organisation Which?

Rachel has been looking into the various ways to make a will and investigating the problems that occur when one has been poorly written.

If you're considering writing a will, you can go to a solicitor, use a will writer or even buy a do-it-yourself will kit. But choosing the wrong person can lead to complications and even lead to the will being ruled null and void or needing to be rectified in court.

This is something that X-Ray viewer Colin Maiden from Neath knows only too well. When his father Gwynfa fell ill and couldn't leave the house, he helped him find someone to draw up his will.

"We saw in a local newspaper an advertisement saying that there was a will writer that would come to your home to write your will. In he came, with his briefcase and his laptop and he seemed quite plausible.

"And my father went through everything with him, he wrote it all down, put it all on his laptop and he went away."

The will writer drew up a draft copy for Colin's dad Gwynfa to approve and a fortnight later he returned with a will ready to be signed by Colin's father. The will was then folded, put in an envelope and sealed. It was forgotten about until Gwynfa passed away some months later.

After Colin took all of his father's documentation to his solicitor he was in for a real shock.

The solicitor told Colin that the according to the will, his father had left the bulk of his estate to his wife, who had died fifteen years previously and his accountant, even though he never had one. As a result of the will being drawn up incorrectly, the grieving family had to go to court to have it rectified.

Even though a will is maybe one of the most important documents you'll ever have to sign, will writers don't have to be qualified and the industry isn't regulated in the way solicitors are.

But then why would you choose a will writer over a solicitor? Will writers can be cheaper and as in Colin's case, it's more common to receive a home visit.

Elaine Theaker is a will writer and qualified lawyer from Abergavenny. Her company is a member of the Institute of Professional Will Writers (IPW). She advises anyone looking for someone to write their will to make sure that who they choose is properly qualified.

All members of the IPW have to be qualified to write a will. Other tips she suggests when shopping for a will writer are:

  • Make sure the will writer subscribes to an independent complaints procedure. In the event that you did need to make a complaint, it would be dealt with fairly.
  • If the will writer asks for payment upfront make sure it is protected in a pre-payment scheme. All members of the IPW offer this service. That way, should the will writer go out of business before the work was completed, any money you might have handed over will be protected.
  • Another important point to remember if you opt for a will writer is to make sure they have professional insurance in place. Then if something does go wrong, your family can be properly compensated.

When Rachel asked her what she thought about writing your own will, Elaine Theaker said:

"A DIY will is only ever going to be suitable for the most simplest of cases. And, I've seen personally, examples of homemade wills which have been incorrectly witnessed, incorrectly signed, and even altered after it`s been signed. Clearly that`s very likely to make the will invalidated."

The Law Society say that solicitors are the experts when it comes to the law and how it affects you. They also say that if you contact a specialist solicitor they can ensure that the correct documentation is in place and that no issues have been overlooked.

The Institute of Professional Will writers on the other had say that whoever you choose to write your will you should ask to see evidence of their training and qualifications. They also say that you should never assume that all solicitors know everything about will writing. So, the choice is yours!

For a will to be legally valid, whether written by a solicitor or will writer, there are some very basic rules:

  • It must be in writing
  • It must be made by someone who is of sound mind
  • It must be signed
  • At the signing, two witnesses must be present. Importantly, the witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will

There's good news if you're in a charitable spirit because Will Aid and participating solicitors across Wales are offering make a will in exchange for a donation to various charities.

Web links:

For a simple guide to some of the complex language often used in wills see plainenglish.co.uk

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