DIY wills: are they really the easy option?

Do it yourself (DIY) wills have become more and more popular over recent years. Yet with their popularity has come a rise in contentious will and probate matters.

The legal requirements of a will are that it must be in writing, signed in the presence of two witnesses who sign and date the will, and made by a person who is sound of mind and free from duress. These requirements may seem simple to adhere to, but the reality of writing a will yourself and successfully having your wishes followed as you intended upon your death is far from easy.

DIY wills appear attractive as they provide a cheap and convenient way to manage the distribution of your estate. However, few wills are truly straightforward and even if your wishes of who you leave your estate to are clear cut to you, how it is viewed by the court can be very different. Using incorrect or ambiguous wording could mean that your instructions are not followed, or even that your will is invalid. If you make mistakes when writing a DIY will, it is ultimately the law that decides who your estate should go to.

Not being clear on who can witness a will is another area that can cause difficulties. For example, a beneficiary should not witness a will, as a witness cannot benefit from a will that they have witnessed. Also, if a witness is married to a beneficiary, the gift is void. It is important to ensure that witnesses to a will are independent persons and not beneficiaries of the will or related to them.

Problems are also likely to arise if your family structure is complicated. If you have children from previous marriages, step-children and are not married to your current partner, a DIY will may not be the best option. Wanting to lower your inheritance tax bill, having overseas property or owning a business are other matters that would make successfully undertaking a DIY will extremely difficult.

You also need to carefully consider if your wishes outlined in your will can truly be adhered to upon your death. For example, if your child is having financial troubles and you name them as a beneficiary in your will, if they are bankrupt upon your death, the benefit of your estate that you intended for them to receive would go to creditors rather than your child.

A DIY will may save you money upfront in comparison to seeking professional advice from a solicitor but should there be uncertainty surrounding your wishes as outlined in your will, your loved ones could be left to pay the price of trying to manage your finances following your death.

While it is possible to complete a DIY will and have your wishes adhered to upon your passing, it is risky. Seeking professional advice when it comes to writing your will is always the best option, particularly if your family and financial circumstances are complicated.

Louise Williams, partner and head of probate, wills and trusts department at Hutchinson Thomas, said:

“Even wills which seem straightforward can become incredibly cumbersome, usually due to the language used in wills that have been written without legal assistance. The language that is used in a DIY will determines the result. If the language used is incorrect, it can result in the outcome not being what the deceased wanted and what’s more, it can be very expensive to resolve – far more expensive than if legal assistance was sought to draft a will in the first place.

“Unfortunately, problems in DIY wills typically only come to light once the person has died, and then it is too late. Loved ones are then left to go through the rules of intestacy to decide how the estate will be shared out.

“It is always best to seek professional legal advice when drafting a will. All avenues can be explored with experts in the field to ensure your estate is distributed in accordance with the law, your wishes and in the most tax efficient way.”

For more information on lasting power of attorney, contact Louise Williams on 01639 640153 or email