Will yourself to make one

MORE and more people are aware of the importance of writing a will, but actually getting one written is usually quite another matter. Will writing is no longer just the domain of the high street solicitor. There are many other methods, ranging from a do-it-yourself form from your local newsagent to using your bank or a postal will writing company.

With so many options, the choice can be bewildering, and it may be another reason for shelving a disagreeable matter.

The consequences of not making a will can be severe. Inheritance provisions for intestate estates might not provide sufficiently for loved ones, and in some cases, will not provide at all. Unmarried partners, for example, have no automatic right to property.

Most people think the most important financial transaction in their life is buying a house, and no one would dream of going about that half-heartedly but, as Richard Bark-Jones at the Land Law and Succession Committee stresses, a will involves a person's entire estate, and is therefore even more important.

A will is a complicated legal document, and the scope for making mistakes is enormous. Every word has a precise legal meaning, so it is short-sighted to go about the process without proper legal advice. If mistakes are made in the drafting or signing of the will, it might only be partially valid, or even void.

It is tempting to make a home-made will to avoid the expense and fuss of consulting a professional. It is worth bearing in mind that solicitors often make more money sorting out mistakes in badly drafted wills than in writing them.

Single parents and people incapacitated by old age or illness can be covered by the means-tested Green Form scheme. The cost of using a solicitor will vary according to where you live, the firm you choose, and the complexity of your estate and intended will.

As a guide, fees start at around pounds 50 plus VAT for individuals, and from pounds 75 for a couple making wills with similar terms (known as "mirror" wills). Shop around and ask for quotes. Many solicitors are happy to have a free brief meeting to discuss your requirements.

The advantage of using a solicitor is that you have the reassurance of knowing that the person drafting your will is aware of all the legal implications. If he is the family solicitor, he will already have some idea of your needs and circumstances. A solicitor will question you about all your assets to ensure that the will does not omit any important matters. He will give tax advice and discuss other related issues, such as appointing guardians for the care of children.

Age Concern says it is best to use a solicitor when writing a will and suggests that you consider recommendations from friends or family. It publishes a free information pack, available from it direct or from libraries. Age Concern also offers a will writing service using an independent solicitor. The fee includes a donation to the charity. Many other charities also have free information packs on wills to encourage bequests.

Many banks also offer a will writing service if the bank is to be appointed executor. Fees are comparable to those charged by solicitors. The interview is usually conducted by a member of staff who has some training and experience in wills but is not a qualified solicitor. NatWest staff, for example, are members of the Association of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and have experience in estates and taking instructions.

The bank may have recourse to its own in-house lawyers, but if the estate or your needs are too complex, you will probably be advised to instruct a solicitor. There are also a number of specialist will-writing firms who advertise. We will examine their services in a later article.