It may be tempting to use a do-it-yourself will kit to decide how to divide your estate after you die, but you could create problems that will leave loved ones with a legal headache.
The number of inheritance disputes being heard in the High Court has jumped by over 60% in the past two years. In 2017 there were 282 cases and last year this figure rose to 368 disputes about probate.
The easy availability of cheap online will kits and the government’s liberalisation of the probate system could tempt many to opt for a DIY will. But solicitor Tony Pearce warns that problems could arise which will ultimately damage the value of an estate.
Tony, a consultant solicitor with Curtis Whiteford Crocker, who have offices in Plymouth, Tavistock and Torpoint; specialises in litigation and contentious trusts in probate and has seen a steady increase in the number of disputes over wills. He says a legal challenge can be a protracted and expensive process. “I tell people that if an estate is worth up to £150,000 then the costs on both sides can exceed that.”
The Ministry of Justice is pressing ahead with plans to close regional Probate Registries and move the service into one central bureau which is creating delays in the system. There is also a sense of added urgency with those hoping to avoid the government’s proposed increase in probate fees on a sliding scale which means a hike from £215 to £2,500 in fees on estates valued at between £500,000 and £1 million.
Tony Pearce says underfunding appears to be partly to blame for the backlog. At Winchester Probate Registry, applications that once took two weeks to process now take up to two months.
“They recently reported up to 5,350 applications were outstanding and there were more than 1,500 pieces of correspondence to process,” says Tony. “Impatience also plays a role. Beneficiaries might want to push through the sale of a house and assets in order to receive their inheritance quickly. But the law has other ideas.
“One of the problem areas we find is when people make their own probate applications and they haven’t been truthful and don’t distribute the assets properly. What they think should happen might not be what the law says should happen.
“You could get a claim by a disgruntled beneficiary ten months after the grant of probate. Trustees may have already distributed assets and find themselves personally liable for the money with no protection. They may find themselves paying back money that is difficult to recover. There are all these traps for the unwary.
“Family dynamics these days mean there are more and more contested wills – even stable families can fall apart over a will. Making a will is a complicated, difficult issue so make sure you get a good will. Even a will that has been properly made can still be challenged because someone decides they want more.
“Some people regard seeing a solicitor to draw up a will as an added cost but there are safeguards. There is a lot more work involved if there is a dispute. There are more unregulated will writers than ever before and people writing their own wills. It should be an easy thing to get a decent quote for writing a will. Not only may it be cheaper in the long run, but it will give you and your family that invaluable peace of mind in knowing things are taken care of and in good hands.”
Tony Pearce specialises in contentious wills and probate. He works in the Curtis Whiteford Crocker Tavistock office (01822 617666). There are also offices in Plymouth (01752 204444) and Torpoint (01752 931004).