Learning from others to help prevent mistakes in wills

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Wills on Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Most solicitors have seen a thing or two that’s gone wrong in a Will, and may also have heard horror stories from colleagues about the mistakes they’ve encountered too. Some of these errors arise from the continuing popular belief that simply filling out a Will form from the stationers will do the trick.

DIY Will writers can forget to name an executor, overlook the need to appoint guardians for their children, forget their debts, leave out assets, and generally leave an unsound Will. But even where legal advice has been taken, problems can and do occur.

We thought it would be illuminating to compile a list of mistakes we have seen or heard of, some more common than others.

Mistakes that can occur:

1. Wills can be incorrectly signed

2. Or incorrectly witnessed – a recent case hinged on this particular point

3. Not dated – a problem where there’s more than one Will in existence

4. Its intentions can be unclear or badly worded

5. The testator can choose the wrong witnesses, and by doing so can cause the gift in the will to fail, for instance by choosing a beneficiary or the beneficiary’s spouse as a witness

6. The testator can appoint inappropriate executors

7. The Will can be out of date as a result of divorce, marriage or birth

8. It can inadvertently exclude step-children or foster children

9. The testator relies on separate additions such as a letter of wishes or a codicil that isn’t signed or witnessed properly

10. Handwritten alterations were made on the Will rather than in a codicil

11. Potential beneficiaries are excluded and the reasons for this not made clear, giving rise to claims against the estate

12. Assuming that if you’re part of a couple you’ll die first, and not thinking through all the possible scenarios

13. Incorrectly describing a gift

14. Trying to gift assets that can’t legally be given, such as jointly-owned property or life policies

15. Not making gift-over provisions

16. Signing the wrong Will. This can happen with mirror wills where a husband and wife sign each other’s by mistake

17. Allowing a beneficiary to be involved in the writing process leading to claims of undue influence

18. Not having the right Will(s) in place to deal with foreign assets

19. Leaving money to non-existent charities

20. Listing assets and who should receive them, without considering what could happen between the date of their Will and their death, so not really having a residue.

There are of course many other things that can make dealing with an estate problematical; for example, not mentioning to family or friends where the original Will is stored.

If you’re looking to make a Will, or to update an existing one, contact us on 0330 221 8855 or email wills@attwaters.co.uk.


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