They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and it is sometimes better not to know anything at all about a topic. If you don’t know then you won’t try to do it yourself. Instead, you will seek advice and get it done properly.
I am talking right now about a handwritten will I came across recently. It started very well with all the things a will should contain. It gave the name of the person making the will (known in legal terms as the testator), his address and stated that it was his last will and testament. There was also a statement revoking all former wills. So far, so good.
Then it went on to appoint some family members as the executors and trustees as the will. One name was written and part of it crossed out. That’s mistake number 1. The difference in the name could have meant that it now referred to someone else but how will that person be able to show that was what the testator meant to do? Or that someone else did not make that change?
If anything is crossed out in your will, you must make sure to initial the changes AND you should make sure the witnesses to the will also initial the changes you have made. If you don’t do so, how can anyone tell whether the changes were made by you before the will was signed or by someone else after? This is meant to avoid fraud. If not, I would be able to take my mother’s will, which gives me £20,000 and change the gift to £200,000. The only reason that I would not succeed with that fraud is that without my mother and her witnesses initialling the will, I have no way of proving that it was my mother that made the change. That is why you must try not to make changes to your will and if possible make a new will instead. But if that’s not possible or practical, then you must make sure you and your witnesses initial or sign the beside changes.
As I said, that was only mistake number 1 and not the most serious. This will goes on to make a gift of the testator’s property to his friend. So far, still so good, until you get to the language he used. It was rather ambiguous and this was mistake number 2. He said: “all my estate” known as “Rowlands House” (the name has been changed) to a friend of his. What makes this ambiguous is that in most wills “my estate” refers to everything the testator owns rather than just their house (property). So, is he referring to everything he owns or is he referring just to Rowlands House? Can you see the problem? That’s the second mistake and one that the beneficiaries may have to go to court to figure out.
He then goes on to make a gift of his personal possessions to a certain person. This is actually quite good as most people don’t think of making gifts of their personal possessions. It’s a good idea as you might not want the people who get your money to get your personal possessions.
Something else the testator got right was that he made his wishes for his body to be used for therapeutic or medical research known in his will. This is helpful to the executors and family because, even if they don’t get to see the will till later on, it will confirm what the testator wanted. It will also help them come to terms with what might be a difficult decision for some. relatives or executors.
Mistake number 3 is the most serious one. Nowhere in the will does the testator provide for what is to happen to the rest of his estate (known legally as the residuary estate). That means that his money in the bank, his investments and anything else he owns is not provided for. I happen to know that in this case, the testator did have some substantial investments. This is a real tragedy because the reason for a will is to decide who should get everything you own. Sadly, in this case, he has failed to do that. That means that as far as those investments are concerned, the intestacy rules will apply. Sometimes the effect of intestacy might not be serious, but in this case, the testator was not married and had no children or siblings and his parents had died before him. That means that instead of his estate going to the friends he wanted to provide for, everything will go to distant relatives (aunts and uncles or their children) that he had no contact with. That’s why in my book, Making a Will, I caution people making a will to always include a “residuary” provision, to scoop up everything that you did not specifically give away in the will. This is one of the most important provisions of a will and many testators who prepare their own wills are failing to include it. It is absolutely crucial and should never be left out. As a result of this serious mistake, part of the will has failed.
If you need help and advice about making a will please contact us. Even if you think you know about making wills, this is a time when a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. So get in touch and get proper legal advice to make sure you leave a valid and effective will.