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Whilst home improvement and redecorating became a popular pastime throughout lockdown, a very different type of DIY has seen a big spike in interest too. Naomi McFadden, private client solicitor at Roythornes Solicitors, explains why wills have become such a hot topic in the UK and why your estate might be in trouble if you choose to write your own.
“Google searches for DIY wills skyrocketed when the coronavirus pandemic peaked in March and saw an even greater increase in November when the UK government announced a second national lockdown. Big life events have a way of forcing people to confront their own mortality and get their affairs in order, should they pass away in the near future, and coronavirus was no different.
“Last year, we received an unprecedented number of applications for free will writing through the Will Aid scheme before we had to close the application portal due to capacity. The programme offers free will writing by expert solicitors in exchange for an optional charity donation. Three solicitors, from three different Roythornes offices, worked pro bono to convert 250 applications from cases into wills. The team raised just over £6,000 in donations, making us one of the top donating firms in the UK in the 2020 campaign.
“With 53% of UK adults not having a will, according to Will Aid, a significant majority of people could fall victim to intestacy rules, meaning that your estate will be distributed according to the rules, which might not align with your wishes. For example, a cohabiting but unmarried partner will not automatically be a beneficiary of your will. The principle of testamentary freedom gives anyone making a will in England and Wales the power to leave their assets to whomever they choose. Having a will is the only way to ensure that your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes.
“Whilst writing your own will seems easy, convenient and cheap, especially with coronavirus making it harder to visit your lawyer, there’s plenty of valuable insight that a solicitor can offer when thinking about how to distribute your assets including crucial consideration of your assets, lifetime tax planning and of course, inheritance tax planning.
“DIY wills are rarely as tax efficient as those written by a solicitor. We can help you to navigate the tax-free bands available to you and draft your will to successfully claim the tax-free savings. This includes the nil rate band and the residence nil rate band or ‘family home allowance’, which could protect up to £1M worth of assets from inheritance tax for a married couple.
“Simply put, a solicitor can translate your wishes into your will, using empathy and expertise to create an efficient, legally-sound document that will ensure your assets are distributed accordingly.
“Often the simplest error we see in DIY wills is the incorrect execution of the document which can invalidate the gifts within the will. The signature of the person making the will must be witnessed by two adults, at the same time, in the presence of each other, and those adults must be independent from the document (i.e., not receiving a benefit under it). The lockdown has made the witnessing and execution rules difficult to navigate, particularly after an update allowing video witnessing. If not executed correctly, the gift could fail and your beneficiaries may lose out.
“With coronavirus forcing people to think about getting their affairs in order, it’s important not to jump the gun and instead take the time to contact a professional and let them help you create the right will for you and your family.”