WOULD you give a stranger a signed blank cheque? No? Then why trust everything you own to someone you know nothing about?
Following your death your will disposes of everything you own, and everything that is important to you. It is probably one of the most important documents you will sign in the whole of your life.
Contrary to popular belief, there is something worse than not leaving a will – it is leaving a badly drafted will.
Drafting a will involves much more than simply appointing executors and stating your wishes. Preparing a document along these lines is in effect a will transcription service, which is all that many of the cheaper providers do.
A solicitor has extensive training in many areas of law, not just preparation of wills.
Different areas of law can impact on how assets can be disposed of and can influence how such a document should be prepared.
Solicitors specialising in this area of law will have knowledge of family law, land law, contract, care home fees and tax, all of which must be considered. They will be able to advise on whether your wishes are achievable or whether you may need to reconsider them.
Members of SFE will have experience not only in drafting wills but also in the administration of estates following death.
They know what can cause difficulties following a death and can suggest alternatives. This experience means they also have insight into how a will can give comfort to the bereaved, or devastate them. When a will is badly drafted, or something is included in a will that perhaps might cause distress, the only person who can put this right is dead.
It is not possible to say sorry, to kiss and make-up. This can cause wounds that never heal and can destroy a family, forever.
The problem becomes more acute when presented with statistics. Recent research showed that 64 per cent of people believe all “will writers” are solicitors.
Furthermore 82 per cent assume training and qualifications are needed before becoming a will writer. Both of these facts are quite simply untrue.
And if proof were needed of how widespread a problem this could ultimately prove, one need only look at the fact that less than 40 per cent of us who live in the north of England have a will in place.
When it comes to lasting power of attorney, that figure drops to 10 per cent.
A solicitor, when instructed to prepare your will, first and foremost has a duty, at all times, to act in your best interests.
They are not sales people reliant on commission and are not allowed to cold call. If it is not in your best interests for you to do something, a solicitor should tell you, even if that means they will not be able to charge any fee! You should never be persuaded to do anything that is not in your best interests.
Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and can be investigated by the Legal Services Ombudsman.
If a solicitor gets it wrong you have somewhere to go to make sure things are put right. If there has been negligence, they must be insured so that losses can be put right and compensation can be paid.
Cost can also be an important consideration. It is worth contacting some local solicitors – they may not charge as much as you think and may be cheaper than other providers, especially if their charges do not include “extras”.
A member of Solicitors for the Elderly is obliged, by the additional code of conduct that organisation has, to make sure costs are transparent and that there are no hidden extras.
So, when choosing who should help you dispose of everything you own, would you prefer someone who has undertaken years of training, is highly regulated and insured, or would you prefer to take “pot luck”?
To help give the public more information, we have teamed up with The Yorkshire Post to stage a seminar open to the general public to help people make more informed decisions.
It is free to attend and will allow the public to ask questions of myself, and others, to ensure your will is sacrosanct and legally sound.
The event will take place at The Yorkshire Post’s offices on 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, LS12 1BE on March 31. It will be a lunchtime event with refreshments provided. Admission is free. To book a place please contact Tim Rogers on 0113 238 8839 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Wright is a partner at Yorkshire law firm Whitaker Firth and an accredited member of Solicitors for the Elderly.