Inheritance disputes increase due to DIY wills

by | Aug 25, 2022

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According to a FOI request made by law firm Nockolds, a rise in DIY wills has resulted in an increase in family disputes, with attempts to block the legal process of dealing with someone’s assets on death (known as probate in England and Wales) jumping by 37%. The figures showed nearly 10,000 challenges to the distribution of inherited estates in English and Welsh courts and tribunals service centres in 2021, up 37 per cent compared with 2019.

Responding to the figures, Clare Moffat, Pensions & Legal Expert at Royal London, said:

“The pandemic really focussed people’s minds on the need to have their financial affairs in order. Death is one of the great taboo topics that most people find incredibly hard to talk about. But discussing plans in advance ensures you and your loved ones can be better prepared emotionally, practically and financially.

“Statistics show that the pandemic was responsible for a spike in DIY will writing, possibly to save money. While avoiding the cost of using a will writer or solicitor may seem like a good way of saving money, producing a will yourself could lead to problems and end up costing a lot more in the long term. The cost of living crisis is causing many issues but these could be made even worse if a family can’t access any money, for months or perhaps years, after the death of the main earner.

“The law is complex and if you aren’t familiar with the process and terminology of writing a will, it’s all too easy to invalidate it or leave it open to challenge.

“Family structures are increasingly complicated, which in turn comes with challenging financial arrangements. So, it’s more important than ever to make sure your will is legally correct. Taking financial advice can also save money in the longer term. Planning in advance can help reduce the amount of inheritance tax payable on death.

“Having a will can prove invaluable, especially if there are children, blended families or cohabitees. Preparing for death might seem pessimistic but in practice it’s about making sure the people you love receive what you would want them to. And it removes a lot of the complexity in the process at a time of sadness, compared with facing the laws of intestacy.”

  • More than half of adults (56%) in the UK don’t have a valid will, rising to 79% for 18–34-year-olds.
  • Of those who don’t have a will, 47% see the value, but haven’t got around to making one
  • Six in ten (62%) people haven’t reviewed their will in over a year, with three in ten (29%) leaving it more than 5 years

* Wills research commissioned by Royal London, Opinium surveyed 2,000 UK adults in September 2021

Five things you should never do when it comes to writing a will

Don’t keep putting it off

Writing a will often never makes it off the to-do list, but having a valid, up to date will is an important step in making sure your assets go to those you want to receive them. You may not think you have many assets to pass on, but if you own a house, it’s important to include it in your will. It’s also important, if you have children, to express who you would like to be responsible for their care. Writing a will might seem like a tedious task, but our research found nearly nine in ten (86%) people who had written a will thought the overall process was easy.

Don’t forget to update it

It’s important to think of your will as a live document, and therefore one that reflects your stage in life. If you’ve recently been through a big life event such as marriage, divorce, you’ve bought a house, inherited assets or had children, make sure your will reflects your new circumstances. We found that six in ten (62%) people haven’t reviewed their will in over a year, with three in ten (29%) leaving it more than 5 years. Reviewing your will can be just as important as writing it.

Don’t ignore your living status

If you live with your partner unmarried – also known as cohabiting – it’s even more important to keep an up-to-date will as you won’t have the same automatic inheritance rights as those who are married. This means that anything which belonged to the person who died will usually go to their relatives, even if they have cohabited with their partner for many years.

Don’t keep it a secret

While no one likes to talk about death, it’s essential we have these uncomfortable conversations with our loved ones to avoid causing problems for them after you’re gone. Once you’ve written a will, make sure your next of kin and your chosen executor (the person who carries out your wishes) knows where to find it. This applies to all of your financial documents.

Don’t forget your pension

People often use the term ‘estate’ to mean everything someone leaves behind when they die, but your pension won’t normally form part of your estate, so won’t be covered by your will. Instead, you should make sure that you fill in a nomination of beneficiary form, so that the pension scheme knows who you would like to receive it.  In some cases, the pension can be worth as much or more than the value of assets in the estate.

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