Errors and mistakes in your Will, no matter how insignificant they may seem, can make it void and invalid. If your Will is invalid, then there isn’t much point in having it in the first place. To make things worse, an invalid Will is found out when the Testator (the person who wrote the Will) has passed away and therefore too late, often resulting in unintended consequences.
Wills are complex, with so many rules and regulations that you must follow. Below we have put together an ultimate list of mistakes that people often make, so that you can avoid them!
Mistake #1 – not updating after life events
Most people forget to review and update their existing Will after life events such as a marriage, divorce, birth etc. I would recommend looking at an existing Will every 2 years, or sooner if your personal circumstances suddenly change.
Did you know that whilst an existing Will is revoked when you marry, it is still valid in case you split up, unless you end up divorcing, in which case the Will would still be valid, but your ‘ex’ is treated as though they have died before you.
Mistake #2 – forgetting to factor in debts
A common mistake is forgetting to factor in debts. Debts, such as mortgages, can leave a large dent in an estate following death. Inheritances that include heavily mortgaged properties could end up causing a legal dispute between loved ones.
A way around this dilemma is to leave gifts as percentages of your estate, rather than calculating a particular amount of money. This means that if the estate ends up being worth far less than anticipated, your beneficiaries will still inherit.
Mistake #3 – relying on a ‘letter of wishes’
When updating a Will, some people use a ‘letter of wishes’ rather than updating the actual Will itself, however this could cause problems after you pass away because it isn’t technically a legally binding document meaning that your wishes may not be carried out.
Mistake #4 – not considering the guardianship of children
Many people do not consider the guardianship of their children (the person or people who will raise them when you die), as they believe this is the same person as the executor. An executor is responsible for administering the estate and is a distinctly different role to that of a Guardian.
Another mistake here is appointing a couple rather than an individual and not considering what happens if they were ever to divorce. Who will then care for your children?
Mistake #5 – not detailing why you have decided to split assets in the way you have
Not detailing why you have decided to split assets the way you have could cause fallouts, especially if you haven’t spilt them equally between family members. Detailing reasons could avoid arguments.
Saying this you do have to be careful with not being too specific. You could reference ‘your Ford’ in your Will for your son rather than generally naming ‘your car’. Before you die, if you upgrade to an Audi and get rid of the Ford, in this situation the gift could fail as the Ford no longer exists and then the Audi will fall into the residue.
Mistake #6 – not having two witnesses
For a Will to be a valid legal document, it needs to be signed in the presence of two witnesses. Most people make the mistake of only have one, making the Will invalid.
Mistake #7 – not notifying executors the location of the original Will
To legally administer your estate, executors will need the original copy of the Will and not just a copy. If they don’t have the original it can be a nightmare for executors to obtain a grant of probate, so that they can administer your estate. It is so important to tell executors and close ones where your original is stored.
Mistake #8 – not realising that a witness can’t benefit from the Will
Those who witness your Will can’t benefit from the Will. This is a very common mistake that people make. As you can imagine this mistake can be disastrous. When choosing who your witnesses should be, make sure they are not a beneficiary or a beneficiary’s spouse.
Mistake #9 – not including intangible assets
When writing a Will, assets such as your house or car are the more obvious things that you can leave for loved ones. People tend to forget about intangible assets such as; premium bonds, shares, bank accounts etc. If you are savvy and collect things like air miles or loyalty points, these too can be left behind. There’s also electronic assets to bear in mind such as a music collection. It’s important to also give loved one’s information and details for any social media accounts, as then they can manage your digital legacy.
Mistake #10 – not naming an executor
This one may seem obvious, but far too many people forget to name executors in their Will (those who deal with the administration of your estate). If there is no executor named, the law sets out who is to administer the estate, for example the residuary beneficiaries.
If the reason you haven’t nominated an executor is because you don’t want all the responsibility to fall onto one person, you can appoint more than one.
Mistake #11 – assuming you’ll die first
Don’t assume that you’ll die before your chosen executors or beneficiaries, as they may die before you. This is why it is so important to think of every scenario and what you want to happen for each one.
Mistake #12 – forgetting to name step children in your Will
Even if you have raised and consider step or foster children to be your own, making reference to ‘my children’ in your Will won’t automatically cover them. Make sure you are explicit in your Will of who you want to benefit.
Legally adopted children are considered the same as biological.
Mistake #13 – assuming partners will receive half even if you aren’t married
There’s a common misconception that unmarried partners are automatically entitled to be a beneficiary even if they are not included in a Will. This is not correct, no matter how long you have been with your partner. If you want them to inherit, make sure that you include them in your Will.
Mistake #14 – not detailing why someone has been left out of your Will
You probably have a very good reason as to why you don’t want someone to be a beneficiary. Make sure that you detail this in your Will, to avoid your loved ones falling out after you have passed away.
You probably remember the case that hit the headlines, where Heather Illot decided to dispute her mother’s wishes of leaving her estate to animal charities. It took 10 years in the courts, but Heather won and received £50,000 under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act. Heather was seen to have been ‘unreasonably’ excluded from her mother’s Will. However, this case is awaiting an appeal with the Supreme Court and so the outcome may differ.
Mistake #15 – writing a Will lacking full capacity
For a Will to be legally valid, the person writing it must not lack capacity. Make sure you are not under the influence of alcohol or medication when writing your wishes. If you were under the influence, your Will could be contested after you pass away.
Mistake #16 – deciding not to involve a GP
If the person making a Will is elderly, legal professionals have received clear judicial guidance, that it’s best practice to have a medical certificate to show they have capacity.
Unfortunately, Wills are challenged because certain parties aren’t happy and this is commonly on the ground of lacking capacity. A certificate from a GP will help avoid this situation, or the GP could witness your Will.
Mistake #17 – writing a Will yourself
Getting a professional (like myself) to write your Will costs money and so many people decide to do it themselves, often using a template. Wills are complex and any errors or mistakes can make it void. It is so easy to make a mistake. Leave it to a professional, they have the experience and knowledge, and will make sure that all your wishes are taken care of.
Mistake #18 – not having a Will at all
Some people don’t think they need a Will because of a number of factors such as not thinking they have anything to leave behind (remember intangible assets in mistake #9?), loved ones will automatically receive assets etc. You can’t assume anything. Wills clear up any confusion between friends and family and help avoid fallouts after you have passed away.
So there is my ultimate list of mistakes to avoid! If you would like to talk to me about writing a Will, a conversation is free and no obligatory.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Let’s grab a coffee.