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Are Free Wills Really Free?

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Free Will writing has become more common in recent years and can seem like an affordable option when it comes to making your Will.

There can, though, be hidden costs to using a free Will writing service that may not become apparent for many years.

This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of using free Will writing services.

Why should I make a Will?

Making a Will is an effective way of ensuring that your assets (money, property and possessions) are distributed in the way you want following your death.

If you don’t make a Will the law of intestacy will apply which could result in some of your loved ones not receiving anything from your estate (for example, if you are not married to your partner or have children from a previous marriage).

As well as making a Will, it is very important that it is drafted correctly. Any errors could invalidate the document or lead to it being legally challenged after your death.

How can I ensure my Will is drawn up correctly?

Many people choose to ask a solicitor to draw up their Will.

With their expertise and experience, solicitors can draft an error-free Will. In the unlikely event of there being any subsequent problems, the solicitor will be tightly regulated and have professional indemnity insurance to provide you with the opportunity for redress.

Some people are reluctant to ask a solicitor to draw up their Will, however, because of the expense.

For more complex Wills this could run into several hundred pounds. An alternative way of having the benefit of a solicitor’s expertise is to use a free Will writing service.

How does free Will writing work?

This process sees a solicitor agree to draw up a Will for an individual either free of charge or for a very low fee.

Sometimes this works in partnership with a charity; the charity will pay for the Will to be drawn up in the expectation that it will receive a bequest.

Other organisations, such as banks, may run free Will writing schemes to provide customers with an affordable way to draw up a Will.

What are the advantages of using a free Will writing service?

Expertise

Free Will writing can provide an effective way for people on limited budgets to have a will drawn up by a legal expert.

This can help avoid errors which could invalidate the Will or lead to it being challenged following the individual’s death.

Free Will writing could be seen as preferable to producing a ‘DIY Will’ with a template off the internet (which would have no legal oversight) or even not making a Will at all.

Benefits to charity

When run in partnership with a charity, free Will writing services can be mutually advantageous; the charity benefits from a bequest while the individual gets the help of an expert in drafting their Will and the satisfaction of having helped a deserving cause.

What are the disadvantages of using a free Will writing service?

Limited service

The Wills drawn up under these schemes are often of a very basic kind; for example, for individuals who wish to leave all their assets to their immediate family.

Such Wills are less likely to be suitable for more complex estates (such as where an individual has children from a previous marriage or where tax planning advice is needed).

While using a free Will service may be appealing in the short run, the lack of a comprehensive document could result in the Will not distributing the individual’s assets in the way they desired, more inheritance tax than necessary being paid or ambiguities that lead to the Will being legally challenged.

In such cases the service might prove to be costly in the long run – in both financial and emotional terms.

Hidden costs

Some solicitors and banks that provide free Wills do so in the expectation that they will be appointed as executor. Following the individual’s death, the executor is responsible for collecting together all of their assets and distributing them in the manner set down in the Will.

It might seem an attractive proposition to have this role carried out by an expert as it often involves handling large sums of money, arranging the sale of properties, following strict procedures and keeping meticulous records.

In the long run, however, this may be a costly move as some providers of free Wills charge fees above the market rate in order to ensure they eventually profit from the initial ‘free’ service they have provided.

This fee could be levied as either an hourly charge (which could provide an incentive to drag out the process) or as a percentage of the value of the estate.

The fees charged in this way are in marked contrast to the service provided by friends and relatives, who often carry out the role of executor for free.

Are there other ways for people on a limited budget to have their Will drawn up?

Online DIY kits

There are many websites that provide the opportunity to draw up your own Will for free or at very low cost.

Whereas free Will writing often brings with it the expertise of a qualified solicitor, such DIY Wills are unlikely to have any oversight and may be suitable only for the most straightforward of Wills.

The short-term gain of having a Will produced at low or no cost could again be offset by long-term problems created by the lack of legal expertise in the original drafting.

Paying a solicitor to draw up your Will

We have seen that while having your Will drawn up for free or at very low cost may seem attractive, there can be downsides.

Particularly with more complicated wills, many people prefer to hire a solicitor in the traditional way and allow them to use their full range of expertise and experience to produce a Will that is tailor-made for the individual and which takes into account all of their circumstances.

Such a document is likely to be more effective in ensuring that their estate is distributed according to their wishes – and may also prove more cost-effective in the long run.

The benefits of having a solicitor draft a bespoke will include:

Flexibility

Whereas a Will drawn up as part of a free or low-cost service is likely to be based on a general template, working individually with a solicitor helps you ensure that the document meets all your requirements.

The solicitor has the opportunity to find out in detail about your circumstances and can use this knowledge to make the Will flexible and robust. Examples of this include:

  • Making sure that a partner to whom you are not married or children from a previous marriage are included as beneficiaries.
  • Including arrangements for people under the age of 18 to have trustees to safeguard their inheritance.
  • For Muslim clients Wilson Browne is fully qualified to make Sharia law compliant for an English Will in a way that complies with compulsory regulations concerning the
  • distribution of assets.
  • Offering a specialist service to business owners over the most efficient way to bequeath their company.
  • Providing advice to individuals with overseas assets on how to incorporate these into their Will.

Tax planning

Many people end up unnecessarily paying large sums of money to HMRC in inheritance tax and capital gains tax.

Solicitors such as Wilson Browne are experts at drafting Wills which minimise your tax liabilities and ensure that as much of your estate as possible is shared among your loved ones. In particularly complex cases we will work with trusted accountants to maximise your benefits under the taxation system.

Future-proofing your Will

Many people live for a long time after drawing up their will.

During this period both individual and family circumstances may change. This can mean that the original Will no longer reflects the individual’s wishes over the dispersal of their estate. As a consequence, they may either be faced with the prospect of a loved one not receiving an inheritance, or the expense of amending their Will.

A skilled solicitor can reduce the scale of this problem by future-proofing the Will wherever possible. For example, rather than specifically naming the children who are to be beneficiaries, the Will could be framed in such a way as to include any as yet unborn children as beneficiaries. In the case of an executor or trustees, the Will could be drawn up to specify reserve choices who could take on the roles should the original nominees be unavailable.

Free Will health-checks

Upon the death of an individual it is vital that their latest Will is available as soon as possible to the executor.

Any problems in locating the document will delay the probate process, potentially causing further distress to individuals at what is already a very difficult time.

While some companies that draw up Wills make a charge for storing the document, Wilson Browne is pleased to offer Will Health check service free of charge to help the probate process run smoothly.

Transparent costs

We have seen how some free Will writing services may contain hidden long-term costs that can significantly reduce the value of the estate.

Wilson Browne will provide individuals with a full breakdown of costs from the outset so that they can make an informed decision on whether to proceed.

Our price for a standard Will is £295 (plus VAT) with additional fees for issues including (but not limited to):

  • multiple beneficiaries
  • leaving multiple gifts
  • advice on trusts
  • inheritance tax guidance

It is also important to stress that there would be no obligation for you to appoint us as executors of your Will.

Convenience

We can offer advice on wills at our offices in Northampton, Kettering, Corby, Higham Ferrers, Wellingborough, and Leicester. For clients with mobility issues we will be happy to offer home visits.

Robustness

Among the most distressing things that can occur during the probate process is the Will being legally contested.

While comparatively rare, a court challenge can significantly affect the value of your estate, delay the distribution of assets and cause great anxiety to your loved ones.

Having your Will tailor-made to your requirements can reduce the risk of this happening in a number of ways.

During the process of drawing up the Will your capacity to make decisions will be assessed by a legally qualified professional in a face-to-face meeting.

Having the drafting of a Will overseen by a solicitor reduces the chances of an individual being coerced over the document’s contents.

The solicitor can use their experience and expertise to ensure that there is no vague or ambiguous language in the Will that could provide grounds for a future legal challenge.

How can I find out more about having a bespoke Will drawn up?

For many people, having a Will drawn up can be a stressful and emotional experience with anxiety over whether their assets will be distributed in the way they want.

Wilson Browne’s expert team of Will-making solicitors can take much of the anxiety out of the process and leave you with the peace of mind that your estate will be distributed in accordance with your wishes.

We pride ourselves on building up strong relationships with our clients, gaining a real insight into their requirements and utilising our skills and experience to ensure these needs are met.

Please get in touch to find out how we can help you safeguard the future of your loved ones.

Call us on 0800 088 6004 or fill in our online form.

Vicki Pearce

Posted:

Vicki Pearce

Partner

Vicki is a Partner and head of our Private Client Team and our Care Funding and Court of Protection Team . She is based in Northampton. As head of both teams she is able to bring her expertise and obvious overlaps into both areas of…