Write a DIY will and you could leave your family in the lurch

Your beneficiaries could end up with big legal costs, says Alessia Horwich
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The Independent Online

Small mistakes can lead to big problems when writing a will. Yet hundreds of thousands of Britons choose to go the DIY route rather than trust a solicitor. You may save cash but if it all goes wrong, you won't be around to sort it out.

According to the financial advice website unbiased.co.uk, 57 per cent of adults in the UK have no will. Of those who don't, one in 10 say the cost is putting them off. Solicitors charge £100-£300 for a basic will for one person and upwards of £1,000 for inheritance tax advice. DIY wills cost about £20, with some as cheap as £9.95. This could be a false economy. "Cutting corners by using a DIY will service could cause even more problems for those left behind than not having one at all," says Karen Barrett, chief executive of unbiased.co.uk. "The average consumer simply doesn't have the knowledge or ability to draw up legal documents themselves, even for what appears to be the most straightforward estate." Errors can invalidate the will or lead to high legal costs. "DIY wills are often good for lawyers," says Peter Nellist, partner at solicitors Clarke Willmott, "because if anything goes to dispute they stand to make a lot of money."

The most common mistakes relate to the execution of the will. "If you DIY and don't sign it properly, the will is invalid," says Scott Rasmusen, partner at private client solicitors Gibson Kerr. "This would mean that you die intestate, which can mean your estate will not go where you wanted it to go." To become legally binding, a will must be witnessed by two independent adults at the same time. If they sign at different times it is invalid; if any witness is a beneficiary, it can compromise the validity of the will.

A solicitor will advise you to pick two executors, at least one of whom is younger than you. Naming guardians for your children may also be overlooked. If you fail to put money you are leaving to your children in a trust and name trustees, the courts may have to be consulted. "Without proper advice, the money from your estate can just be frittered away on legal expenses," says Mr Rasmusen.

Your beneficiaries can lose money from the way the estate is divided. "One of the dangers of cash legacies is inflation," says Mr Nellist. "Specify percentages instead of cash sums."

DIY wills can also mean lost money in inheritance tax.

Most Common Errors

Failing to sign it

Not choosing executors carefully. One of your children is an obvious choice as they are more likely to still be alive when you die.

Putting it where no one can find it

Not updating your will frequently. As situations change, so should the will

Execution of the will. Two witnesses must be present at the same time and must both sign the document.

A beneficiary cannot be a witness

Invalid amendments. You can't just change details in a will. A codicil has to be created and initialled by you and both witnesses.

Failing to leave clear instructions

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