A recent survey conducted by JMW Solicitors revealed a startling statistic: 20% of UK adults do not know what it means to contest a will. For solicitors, it is essential to ensure that clients understand the importance of having a will in place before they pass away and for people to be aware of what steps can be taken if they feel someone’s last will is not valid and in accordance with their wishes..
Here, we take a look at the significance of wills and contested estates and the necessity of a well-crafted will.
The importance of having a will
Dying without a will, or intestate, can lead to a multitude of negative consequences for an individual’s estate and loved ones. In the absence of a will, the estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy, which often may not reflect the deceased’s true wishes. This can result in family disputes, financial hardships for dependents, and other challenges for the bereaved.
Having a will in place ensures that an individual’s estate is distributed according to their wishes, providing clarity and security for their family and loved ones. Some key benefits of having a will include:
- Minimising disputes and conflicts among family members and loved ones: a clear, legally binding will can help prevent disagreements among beneficiaries and reduce the likelihood of contested estates.
- Providing for dependents and loved ones: a will allows individuals to designate beneficiaries, ensuring that their dependents are adequately provided for according to their wishes.
- Reducing the burden on the family during a difficult time: dealing with the distribution of an estate can be emotionally challenging and complex. Having a will in place can simplify this process, alleviating some of the stress on grieving family members because they know the deceased’s wishes.
- Potentially reducing inheritance tax liabilities: through careful estate planning and the use of a will, individuals can potentially reduce their inheritance tax liability, preserving more of their estate for their beneficiaries.
As solicitors, it is crucial to communicate these benefits to clients, emphasising the importance of having a well-crafted will in place before they pass away. Many people simply do not get round to planning and making a will in accordance with their wishes as no one wants to focus on their own mortality and we all blindly assume that we have plenty of time to plan. There is no better time than now and the protection of our families should be all the incentive that’s needed.
The solicitor’s role in drafting a will
Solicitors play a vital role in helping clients create valid and legally binding wills, ensuring that their final wishes are respected and carried out. Drafting a will involves navigating various complexities, such as understanding property ownership, addressing family dynamics, and considering tax implications. Solicitors possess the expertise and experience required to handle these complexities and create a comprehensive, unambiguous will.
To ensure a will is both comprehensive and unambiguous, solicitors can take steps such as reviewing all assets, discussing the client’s wishes in detail, and using clear language to outline the distribution of the estate. By using a solicitor, clients can avoid the pitfalls associated with DIY will-writing services or online templates, which may not adequately address their unique circumstances or comply with legal requirements. It is also the case that there are often validity challenges brought in respect of home made wills and individuals do not always get the formalities right and a challenge can be seen as easier where there has been no solicitor involved to assess the individual and help them achieve a document that fits with their wishes.
Educating clients on the importance of wills
As solicitors, it is essential to educate clients on the importance of wills to ensure they make informed decisions about their estates. Here are some effective methods solicitors can use to educate clients on the significance of having a will:
- Personalised consultations: schedule one-on-one meetings with clients to discuss their unique circumstances, assets, and family dynamics. This personalised approach can help clients understand how a will can specifically address their needs and protect their loved ones.
- Use analogies: use relatable analogies to simplify complex concepts and help clients grasp the importance of having a will. For example, compare a will to a roadmap that guides their loved ones through the distribution of their estate, reducing confusion and potential disputes.
- Discuss potential risks: inform clients about the potential risks associated with not having a will, including the consequences of intestacy, the possibility of family disputes, and the financial burden on their loved ones.
- Highlight your expertise: emphasise the value of working with a solicitor to create a legally binding and comprehensive will, as opposed to using DIY solutions. Explain that a solicitor’s expertise can help avoid pitfalls and ensure the will is tailored to the client’s specific needs.
By employing these strategies, solicitors can effectively educate their clients on the importance of having a will in place, ultimately helping them protect their estate and loved ones. There is no more considered investment than the cost of involving a solicitor in this process and it can often save a lot of legal costs if there would otherwise be a challenge to the distribution by family members who do not agree.
It is paramount for solicitors to educate both themselves and their clients on the importance of having a well-crafted will in place before passing away. By effectively communicating the benefits of a will, addressing misconceptions, and providing guidance through the complexities of estate planning, we can ensure that our clients make informed decisions that protect their assets and loved ones and minimise the possibility of any challenge to their wishes..
By Alison Parry, Partner of Wills Disputes at JMW Solicitors