Bryan Mitchell, Accredited Specialist in Succession Law (Wills & Estates), explains why a DIY will can spell disaster for those they leave behind.
How does a DIY will lead to a court battle?
The rise in people wishing to write a DIY will, available online or as a kit, has created more problems than they solve.
Anna Hacker, National Manager Estate Planning with Equity Trustees Limited (EQT), says that this DIY will trend has the potential to create estate planning disasters.
“Online Wills are bad enough, and people should always be wary of any service that implies drafting a Will is such a simple process that it can be done in a few minutes on the internet. But suggesting that an appropriate Will can be tapped out on your phone with a downloaded app is just too simplistic,” Ms Hacker said. “The most important aspect of making a Will is not the document itself, but the advice that goes with it because that’s what takes into account you as a person, the nuances in your personal relationships and your circumstances. With digital Wills and apps the advice step is missed – an app can’t detect subtleties or be proactive in how you deal with difficulties that might need to be dealt with in a Will.”
The main issue is that people who write a DIY will don’t know the law. The Succession Act 1981 an extremely complex area of the law that only Accredited Specialists usually understand thoroughly. And if you look at the fine print on the apps and online will kits, the owners make lots of disclaimers about not taking responsibility for the finished product.
One of the biggest reasons a DIY will is likely to end up in a court battle is because it’s unclear. An expert in drafting wills knows how to make the language clear and concise. But if a DIY will is unclear, it may require the Supreme Court to interpret the meaning, which is a costly and time-consuming exercise.
“It is increasingly common for Wills to be challenged in court whether by an ex-partner or another family member. In a number of cases, these challenges are upheld. While it is impossible to prevent a challenge, the best way to make it unlikely to succeed is to obtain expert assistance in developing the Estate Plan,” Ms Hacker said.
She adds that very simple mistakes can make a will meaningless. “For instance, a recent case dealt with a young man who had drafted a new Will but not yet signed it. As a result, his estranged partner was still the beneficiary of his entire estate while his parents and current partner at the time he died, received nothing”.
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