Inheritance tax: ‘DIY’ Will queries skyrocket but warnings of invalid set-ups emerge

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Inheritance tax (IHT) is levied on the estate of someone who has died and is passing on their assets. The bill is only paid on estates valued higher than £325,000 and the current charge is 40 percent.

Wills can be created to ensure assets get passed on to the correct recipients and no more is paid to the state than needed.

While many people will seek professional guidance on how to create Wills and ensure they’re legitimate, it is possible to create this document without help and interest in this has jumped in recent weeks.

Richard Nelson LLP, the Wills and probate experts, gathered data on google searches and found will queries surged in the build-up to the second lockdown.

In analysing google data, comparing results from October 25 – 31 to November 1-7, insight on the following search terms was found:

  • Term: DIY Will – increase when lockdown announced: 1,566.67 percent
  • Term: Make a free Will online – increase when lockdown announced: 614.29 percent
  • Term: Free will template – increase when lockdown announced: 171.88 percent
  • Term: Online will – increase when lockdown announced: 128.57 percent
  • Term: Will template – increase when lockdown announced: 125 percent
  • Term: How to write a Will – increase when lockdown announced: 119.23 percent
  • Term: Making a Will – increase when lockdown announced: 74 percent

While it may bode well that savers are looking into their financial affairs, warnings from expert lawyers have emerged as DIY wills are made easily invalid if they do not meet the correct legal requirements for the UK.

Kerry Wigg, a Consultant Solicitor at Richard Nelson, commented on this: “We have noticed a significant increase in clients wanting to make a Will or make changes to their existing will during this time, therefore the findings are not a surprise to us.

“Many individuals across the UK are keen to prepare their Will because of the pandemic and looking for a quick and remote solution, so instinctively searching online for a template.

“Whilst this may be an obvious option, it is not always the best solution and, in my experience this can store up problems for loved ones later down the line in the event of their death.”

“The figures showing such a high search increase for DIY Will is worrying to us.

“These types of ‘online’ Wills are often based on standard templates and, when it comes to making a Will, one size most certainly doesn’t fit all!

“An online DIY Will simply doesn’t offer the advice that should accompany such important decision making for the testator and their loved ones, nor does it offer the peace of mind of knowing that the content of the Will is accurate and the document is executed correctly to ensure it is valid.”

While the idea of having a Will in place which may not even be valid is worrying, advice was issued on how one can ensure all of their efforts are not wasted.

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Don’t put off creating your Will

Coronavirus has understandably made many people worried about what they can and can’t do at the moment but Kerry urged families to set this fear aside where they can: “Many individuals feel anxious about creating their Will during these uncertain times and are put off because of the limited capacity to do so in person.

“However, individuals should still proceed with creating their Will remotely since a valid Will can still be drawn up during the pandemic.”

Check the source you are using

Unfortunately, in the modern digital world it can be easy to fall prey to misinformation and scams and this is something families need to be on top of: “Creating a Will from a free service online can be dangerous if the end product has been created by an unregulated source.

“This can cause difficulty for loved ones later down the line since there may be a dispute over its validity, so we recommend avoiding the online DIY approach if you can.

“When creating a Will remotely, you should carefully consider the website you are using to ensure it is a reputable site which produces quality Wills for clients.”

Ensure your Will is signed correctly and how this can be done when isolating

The legitimacy of a Will can largely boil down to how it has been signed and witnessed.

This, in a cruel twist of fate, has been made harder by lockdown rules but fortunately, efforts have been made to adapt to the new reality: as Kerry explained: “In order for a Will to be valid, the document must be signed by the person making the Will whilst in the presence of two or more independent witnesses.

“To observe this while social distancing, the witness and the maker of the Will need a clear line of sight of each other but do not need to be in the same room.

“Therefore, the signing can take place through a window or in a porch, but it is imperative that those creating a Will during the pandemic ensure their Will has been witnessed correctly in accordance with the Wills Act 1837 to avoid complications and challenges regarding the validity of the Will later down the line.

“For individuals isolating or too sick to sign their own Will, they can appoint another individual to sign their Will, as long as they have read it or have had it read out to them.

“The person signing the Will must have had permission from the Testator of the Will and it must clearly be seen passing from the Testator to the person who is signing on their behalf to be valid. Video witnessing of Wills is also available during the pandemic until 31st January 2022.

“However, video witnessing can be open to abuse and we recommend that this is only used in exceptional circumstances with adequate safeguards and when witnessing in person is not possible.”

Maximise protection against legal disputes

Kerry’s final tips concerned keeping the peace among those involved in the whole process: “When creating a remote will, it is not uncommon for those who are disappointed with their inheritance to dispute the validity of a Will.

“To avoid these complications, great care must be taken to ensure the true wishes of the Testator are reflected in a valid Will.

“A professionally drafted Will usually carries with it the weight that the Testator has taken professional advice in determining the content of their Will, that they were adjudged by the Will writer to have appropriate mental capacity to make their Will and that they were not under any undue influence at the time they made their Will, thereby offering some protection against challenges to Wills on the grounds of validity.”

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