Many people have an aversion to writing a will. It’s understandable; nobody likes facing their own mortality. But what I have found is that clients are happier to confront and discuss about it when they have more information, as this provides them with more confidence in their decision making.
It is helpful to pre-plan your will with someone who has knowledge of the legal and financial consequences. It also helps if they understand and sympathise with what the client is going through. In this regard, a sense of humour can go a long way.
A few light hearted jokes can soften the mood of what can be a sombre discussion. However, what is not a laughing matter are the widespread sharp sales practices and poorly drafted wills people rely on to pass on their wealth to loved ones after they’ve gone.
In fact, as many as one in five wills (written by both will-writing companies and solicitors) have been flagged as being inadequate and poorly written. This has led to calls for will-writing services to be regulated.
What to consider before writing a will
BEFORE engaging a specialist to write your will, you need to understand the financial decisions you will have to make. You also need to identify what the will needs to achieve and to assess the options available to you. Otherwise you may not get a will that suits your unique circumstances and family situation.
The first step is to compile an up-to-date list of your assets (including values and ownership). This includes checking the validity of life insurance policies and whether they are written in trust.
In my opinion, without good preparation it is not possible to draft a will with any confidence. ‘Prior Preparation Precedes Perfect Planning’, as the saying goes.
Will writing is a profitable business (in the long run)
Unfortunately, there are many will drafting firms that don’t share my view. They will happily draft a will without a firm understanding of their client’s circumstances or what the will needs to achieve. If they are not putting the client’s needs first, you have to question why so many firms are keen to draft wills.
There is little money to be made from drafting the will itself. All the real money is made on the backend from selling associated services AND from a firm putting themselves forward as professional executors for dealing with the administration of the estate.
Dealing with estate administration is very profitable, particularly for estates valued at more than £500,000. Solicitors are allowed to charge up to 6 percent on estate administration without reference to the Law Society.
Now that’s a lot of money.
Firms can also add to the pot through fixing poorly drafted wills.
So when you consider that all the money is made from follow up services and very little from writing the will itself, is it any wonder there are so many poorly written wills out there?
In the past I have been shocked by the poor quality of many wills. Often they are not only poorly drafted but also the sloppy wording of such legally binding documents can be hilarious.
Here are some of the worst offenders:-
- One will, drafted by a solicitor and a family friend, excluded a married couple as beneficiaries of their own will.
- A solicitor practice “lost” over 200 wills.
- A married couple were advised to take out an inheritance tax policy on a second death basis despite them being the only trustees on the policy. This meant that the policy only paid out when they both had died. I suggested they could hold a séance to distribute their assets!
- A couple appointed their poorest relatives to look after their children, in the event of their demise, but failed to address their financial needs. When you appoint people to care for your children as guardians, is it fair they should go broke in the process? Fortunately there is a very low cost solution…
- A married couple who were advised to witness each other’s will.
- Clients who were accosted in the street and agreed an appointment based on a price quoted of £35 per will but paid over £2500.
One of the most important documents to get right
Dealing with the succession of your estate is probably the most important planning you will ever do as a family. It is, however, a high consequence transaction. Getting it wrong can cause untold emotional and financial anguish.
Boiled, Fried or Roasted?
Somebody once asked me what aspect of this type of advisory planning I find most rewarding.
When advising independent clients the most interesting and rewarding aspect was drawing up their Wills. That’s because the interviews with couples, on making arrangements for the handling of their estate, were full of drama and tension. Often the topics were new to them, and hadn’t been properly discussed due to unresolved family issues.
When writing a will, you remind clients of their mortality. You also trigger sensitive memories of their parents or other relatives who have died. So naturally, meetings can be sombre.
I found the best way to lighten the mood was to tell jokes. Humour is always a great way of relieving tension, and it helped couples to cope with their emotions. As a result, meetings could be a cathartic experience that formed a stronger emotional bond between them. Naturally, you have to empathise but I always found the meetings great fun. At the end, the couple would appear to have had a great weight lifted off them.
Strangely the worse the jokes (even about burial wishes) the more relaxed the clients became.
Getting wills right is deadly serious
I have to repeat that Wills are a high consequence transaction. Poorly written Wills can cost your family thousands of pounds to correct and may harm those you love most. They can also leave your family open to claims from HMRC for Inheritance Tax.
Carried out properly, Will drafting can be an uplifting experience. Properly written Wills (with accompanying advice) are also, in my opinion, the bedrock of all financial planning.
Ray Best can help you protect your financial future. To find out more, simply click here!