Writing a Will? Avoid These Common Mistakes

writing a will

For such a crucially important document, it’s surprising how many adults in the UK don’t have a Will in place to protect their estate and provide for their loved ones in the event of their passing. What’s more, due to the complicated legal nature of this vital document, many Wills can contain easy-to-miss errors.

So whether you’re writing up a Will for the first time or reviewing an existing one, take a look at these tips to avoid common mistakes that could leave your loved ones in a tough spot.

10 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Will

1. Not Having a Will at All!

As we mentioned, a surprising number of adults don’t have any kind of Will at all. If you die without a Will in place, your assets will be distributed according to intestacy rules – a strict legal hierarchy that prioritises some family members over others. From greatest to least priority, this list is:

  • Spouse or civil partner
  • Children/grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts

Naturally, this system leaves no room for the different dynamics within families and can potentially leave beloved family members (or non-relatives) with nothing. 

2. Incorrect Number / Type of Witness

For a Will to be valid, it must be signed in the presence of two different witnesses, who must also sign the document. If a Will doesn’t have enough witnesses, or if the people chosen cannot legally serve as witnesses, your Will is at risk of not being valid. 

To be considered a valid witness, a person must be at least 18 years old and be physically present at the document’s signing. However, the most common and easiest mistake to make is that a witness must neither be a beneficiary of the Will nor can they be married to a direct beneficiary otherwise they cannot benefit from the Will.

3. Making Changes to a Signed Will

Once a Will has been witnessed and signed, making changes on the face of the Will do not make them effective.  If a change is necessary, it must be written up as a codicil – (a document adding or changing a clause) or it can be rewritten.  . 

4. Failing to Keep the Original Copy

While keeping photocopies of essential documents is a smart and practical idea, you need to be sure you keep the original copy of your Will in a place where it will be both safe and easily accessible after your passing. 

Without this original copy, the executor will have a complicated and expensive process to enable them to get a Grant of probate before they can make to ensure that your wishes are met.

5. Excluding Stepchildren

Many don’t realise that simply referring to “my children” in one’s Will does not cover stepchildren. While adopted children are considered legally the same as biological ones, you will need to specifically mention your stepchildren to successfully pass assets on to them.  

6. Failing to Update After Major Life Events

Life is often complicated and your Will needs to be updated after big life events. Did you know that your Will is automatically invalidated if you get married after it’s written?

It’s necessary to look over and update your Will after major life events such as getting married, getting divorced, or the death or birth of a family member. 

7. Being Too Specific

While being clear and unambiguous is vitally important in a Will, being too specific with personal items can lead to problems or confusion. One of the commonest issues is with vehicles – if you want to leave a car to a specific family member, referring to the vehicle by make or model in your Will can confuse your intentions if you no longer own that specific car at the time of your death. 

It’s best, therefore, to use general terms like “the vehicle in my possession” or, if you do want to be very specific, to always update your Will after buying or selling major assets so that your wishes can be accurately followed (which is highly recommended, regardless).

8. Lacking Capacity

A Will is only binding if it’s made while you are of sound mind.  You can’t give instructions or draft a Will if you are drunk or under heavy medication. 

9. Assuming You Will Die Before Beneficiaries

While it’s usually assumed that the owner of the Will will die before their beneficiaries,, it doesn’t always happen that way. Just to be safe, you should always include backup plans and conditional scenarios to account for the premature death of any of your beneficiaries, and update your Will in the case of the passing of a beneficiary. 

10. Writing a DIY Will

If there’s anything to glean from this article, it’s that writing a Will can be a messy and complicated process. Simply writing up some instructions and signing a piece of paper leaves a high chance for something going wrong. Don’t leave your estate planning to chance — work with a legal professional to ensure that your Will is legally binding and crafted for you and your loved ones’ best interests.

It’s No Secret That You Need a Will

To ensure your estate is taken care of promptly, a Will is the best course of action. Your loved ones will be able to handle your last wishes with ease when they are outlined clearly.

Elizabeth Middleton Solicitors are at the ready with an experienced and considerate  team to assist you with your estate planning needs.  Contact us for more information about writing your Will, as well as your other legal needs for Probate, Lasting Powers of Attorney and Equity Release.