Writing a Will: 3 Top Tips on How to Avoid Disputes

For an increasing number of families, when a loved one passes away, alongside their grief may come unexpected surprises as to how their loved one has handled their estate. The surprise may come from either discovering that their loved one made no plans and didn’t write a will, or that a final will is contrary to what they were expecting. 

Either of these situations can lead to a family dispute. Here Lorraine Robinson, STEP qualified in-house solicitor and Head of Legal at Farewill, offers commentary on the unique relationship between the law and our tumultuous family affairs, sharing some thoughts and advice on how to avoid such disputes, and make sure you leave nothing to chance.

There are three key things to keep in mind when approaching the process of writing your will:

Be intentional

Above all is the importance of making a will in the first place – a staggering number of people still die each year without making even their most basic wishes clear in a will.

Without a will, the rules of intestacy dictate how an estate is split. The rules are outdated and don’t account for modern family structures, leaving nothing to unmarried partners or step-children. Whilst it’s possible to dispute the split, unless everyone involved is in agreement it’s often a laborious legal process to go through to make any changes to how the estate is split.

If you have responsibilities which are not easy to balance or reconcile with each other – for instance, between children from a previous marriage or relationship and a current spouse or partner – doing nothing will not help the people you leave behind. The vacuum left without a will leaves uncertainty over what you actually wanted, and consequently a greater motivation to dispute the split the law imposes by default.

And sometimes, if in life, you’re the connection that brings otherwise unrelated people together, you may also be the arbitrator of choice when disputes arise between them. In death, without your presence, made more raw by your recent loss, each side may be convinced that they know best what you would have wanted. Matters can soon escalate into a formal dispute, with lawyers instructed on each side and the court becoming the ultimate arbitrator of the solution.

Make it personal

We’ve helped thousands of people leave deeply personal messages to their loved ones: overwhelmingly they are messages of love, laughter and reminiscence of good times had or good times hoped for. But sometimes they also offer the rationale behind a split which may, without such explanation, look or feel unfair.

Traditionally, the approach with such notes or ‘letters of wishes’, is only to address the points of potential dispute, often in a fairly legal tone and manner. We think you can do better; more authentically and persuasively; and you should be afforded the time and privacy to add those personal touches to your will yourself.

Don’t do it yourself

The nuances of getting the law right should not be underestimated. Ultimately, wills are legal documents with precise rules around their construction and execution, and it is of paramount importance that the wishes of your will are laid out in a manner which complies with these legal requirements.

Without professional guidance on the fundamentals of making the will formally valid, the chance for a disappointed family member to dispute the validity of a will on a technicality only multiplies. So it’s best to use a professional service, but not to lose sight of how personal your will is to you in the process.

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