Martin Lewis explains the importance of wills
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Legal experts are warning of a sharp rise in disputed legacies as more people prepare cheap online wills rather than paying to use a solicitor. Thousands of families could be plunged into conflict over contested wills as a result, or some could pay unnecessary amounts of inheritance tax.
While it may be tempting to use a cheap online service to write your will, it could prove highly costly in the longer run.
Will writing services advertising online can charge as little as £10 or up to £200, but families who use them could lose vastly more money than they save.
Online wills offer a “slick user experience and lower cost”, and may be appropriate for those with simple financial affairs.
Yet two thirds of those who believe their financial affairs are simple actually have complex circumstances and need face-to-face legal advice, according to a new report by independent research and consultancy firm Funeral Solution Expert.
Incredibly, one in four who have used an online will writing service didn’t even bother to understand or even read the will they signed.
Funeral Solution Expert co-founder Simon Cox said online will writing services are “building a future pool of unsuitable and contested wills”.
Second marriages, children from previous relationships, business ownership, self-employment and overseas property could all make a will much more complex, Cox said. “As would disinheriting a family member who might squander an inheritance.”
Online services often fail to check people have mental capacity to write a will, Cox added.
Worse, they offer little or no liability if the will is contested by disgruntled relatives.
Michael Culver, chairman of Solicitors for the Elderly, said using an online will writing service could cost your loved ones their entire inheritance, which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds on some estates.
The wills market remains largely unregulated so if something goes wrong families have nowhere to complain and no legal right to any compensation.
Traditional solicitors must have professional indemnity insurance of between £2 million and £10 million.
By contrast, online will writers typically limit their liability to the cost of the will, Culver warned.
“Compensation of £200 doesn’t seem sufficient to cover a mistake that could cost someone their entire inheritance,” he said.
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Worse these “catches” are mostly hidden in the terms and conditions, and rarely mentioned as part of the sales process, Culver said.
Jon Brewer, chief executive of Bequeathed, warned that will-writing services often don’t live up to the marketing claims.
“The limitations and exclusions in the small print may not matter to the consumer making the will now.
“However, they will matter to their family and friends who find the will doesn’t do what it should but have no-one to claim against.”
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