Whether you have decided to use a solicitor to help write your will, you are going along the DIY route, or you have chosen a will writing specialist to assist, it is vitally important that your will is scrutinised and checked to ensure that, when the time comes for it to be executed, it is in fact valid.
If a will is not considered valid, the executor for the estate won’t be able to obtain the grant of probate, and without that, nothing can happen with the estate, and eventually the testator will have been deemed to have died intestate, and the intestacy rules will come into play. This could mean that completely different people to those named in the will end up inheriting the estate.
A recent investigation carried out by the Legal Services Consumer Panel suggests that as many as one in five wills are invalid. This could come as a surprise to many people, but it is important to be aware of the facts and to make doubly sure that your will is valid.
The most common reason for a will to be seen as invalid is if it has not been signed and/or dated by the testator in front of two witnesses who also need to sign the will. If any of the three people mentioned above have not signed the will, it is invalid. If the testator signs the will out of the presence of the witnesses and then asks the witnesses to sign after this has happened, the will will also be invalid.
The will presented must also be the original document, and not a copy. If the original cannot be found, the copy will not be executed, and will be called invalid, even if it is signed correctly. The same is true is the will has been altered in any way, or thought to have been tampered with.
If the will is not the last one that the testator made, it is invalid as the most recent wills is the only one that will be taken into account.
More reasons for the wills being invalid include the testator making the will under duress, or through undue influence (ie they were forced to name beneficiaries whom they did not intend to name). And if the will was written before a marriage, remember that the marriage actually revokes any will made previously, and a new one will need to be written. It could be exactly the same as the one that was written before the marriage, but it must be re-done all the same.
If the testator was not of sound mind and did not therefore have the capacity to understand what they were doing, or if they did not have the proper legal capacity to write a will, it will be invalid.
Finally, if a will neglects to mention some assets, in some circumstances that can mean that the entire will can fail.
An invalid will can cause major disruption and problems when it comes to probate and the estate of the deceased, and it can also cause many emotional upsets too. This is why it is so important to have your will checked by a professional to ensure that there is nothing within it that could cause it to be called invalid after you have died.
Roger Lloyd-Pack was a much loved British star who sadly died of pancreatic cancer in January 2014. But although Roger Lloyd-Pack was much more intelligent than his most famous character, Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, there was one thing he forgot to do before he passed away.
He neglected to write a will.
Lloyd-Pack’s estate was estimated at being £1.4 million, but without a will there was no certainty that the money would go to his family, especially as he had been married twice, and it was thought that some of his children and other family members might miss out on their part of the inheritance because of the lack of a will. Due to intestacy rules, his estate would have been legally entitled to be shared out between his widow and his four children.
And another problem that could arise is that thousands of more pounds could be owed in inheritance taxes – money that wouldn’t have to have been paid if a will have been made in the first place. The children are automatically entitled to share the money after legal expenses and the funeral have been paid for, but this net amount will be subject to tax laws.
This means that, although Mr Lloyd-Pack might have wanted his children to inherit an equal share of his £1.4 million fortune, their true share (after his wife inherits approximately £250,000) could be a lot less.
Writing a will ensures that the people you want to inherit your estate, money, and belongings do so, without additional costs or any unwanted problems. It will be a hard enough time for family and friends to deal with funeral arrangements, probate, and the emotional sadness that comes with the death of a loved one, and having a will in place saves that extra trauma.
It’s possible to leave many things in a will – property, money, stocks, shares, various possessions, animals, and almost anything else you can think of (although there are some things that absolutely, definitely cannot be bequeathed to somebody, including insurance policies and your own body), and there have been some surprising items left to people in the past – Shakespeare himself left his second best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway.
And many people are left things that, once they’ve got them, they’re not entirely sure whether they want them or not – perhaps there’s no room, or the upkeep is too expensive.
As it turns out, Abumbi II, the 11th king of Bafut (Cameroon) falls into both of those categories.
When his father passed away, Abumbi II was given all of his dad’s wives. All 72 of them. Now that’s a lot of wives, but take into account that the son already had around 30 of his own, and now his wives number over 100. He married each of his father’s wives, as tradition states he must, and will now learn how to be king from them. This is the main reason behind ‘passing on’ the wives, as they will have seen how the late king ran the country, and will pass that information on to his offspring.
But there was more to the bequest that just 72 wives. There were the 500 children to consider too. Abumbi II will have ‘adopted’ each of them, and become not only their brother and half brother, but also their father. It can get a little complicated, but the idea is to keep the royal family in one place, together.
It is a tradition that dates back to ancient times, and since polygamy is legal in Bafut, there is no reason for the practise to change any time soon.
A will writing professional advises what’s best to include in a will to suit your particular circumstances and wishes. However, it’s always a good idea to have some prior knowledge of what would normally be included, so you can plan your will effectively, in your own time.
Of course the first thing you need to think about when drawing up a will is who should get what. Among your assets, include property, cash, savings, pensions, policies, shares and all your personal possessions including jewellery and collections.
If you have children under 18, you certainly want to know that they’ll be well taken care of, should the worst happen. It’s never a pleasant subject, but it’s worth discussing arrangements both with the child if appropriate, and the selected and agreed guardian before including this in the will, too.
The person who will be in charge of ensuring that the wishes in your will are carried out and that everyone receives what they should is known as the executor. You can choose who should take on that role (remembering that it’s always best to ask beforehand).
If you make your will well in advance, your advisor may be able to help you find ways now to minimise the amount of inheritance tax which will eventually fall due on your estate. These could include gifts and transfers.
Once you’ve made your will, you should be advised to change it every three years or so, to reflect any change in circumstances. This must be done formally through either a codicil or preparing a new will altogether, signed and witnessed. Simple additions in pen or strikethroughs will not be classed as official and will be ignored.