Guides & Advice

The hidden dangers of online will-writing services

The hidden dangers of online will-writing services

As people have spent more time at home with their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has understandably prompted many to turn their thoughts to the best way of protecting their estate to pass onto your friends and family and get their legal affairs in order.

Back in March, the Law Society reported a 30% increase on the usual requests to create wills, with online services also seeing more interest. While online will-writers may appear to be a speedy and inexpensive alternative to using a solicitor (some online services offer wills for less than twenty pounds and all completed in less than 15 minutes), are some of these offers too good to be true?

Here we highlight the four dangers to be aware of when considering an online will-writing service.

1. Lack of regulation

Firms of solicitors are bound by rigorous regulations and standards, which guarantee a certain level of protection for their clients when drafting their wills. They are also required to keep up to date with changes to the relevant laws to ensure their advice is accurate and their wills are legally valid. However, not all online will-writers are regulated and therefore they do not have to adhere to the same regulations and standards.

Unlike solicitors, some online will-writers may not have adequate insurance in place, so if the will doesn’t do what it is supposed to, and it’s not discovered until after the death of the testator, the disappointed beneficiary will have no redress.

2. Online wills are not bespoke

Online wills can be made in a matter of minutes and are often computer generated. The process can consist of simply filling out a form and making payment. Online will-writers may not take the time to gather information from their clients that is required to make a proper will that suits that individual’s circumstances, nor do they tend to provide advice on trusts, personal tax planning or assets held overseas. Sometimes the software automatically appoints the will writing company as the executor - even though that may not be the testator’s wishes.

As a result, online wills may not be fit for purpose. The lack of bespoke advice could mean that parts (or even the entirety) of the will may not be effective. It could also mean that the estate could face unwanted tax implications or possibly legal claims against the estate – all of which could end up costing many thousands of pounds.

3. Beware of hidden costs

Whilst the headline rate may be that the will costs ‘less than £20’, online will-writers can sometimes include extortionate hidden fees and charges in their terms and conditions. This can result in severe financial penalties for an estate later down the line.  There could even be fees for storing the will and then retrieving it.

The big cost however can come from the appointment of the will writing company as the executor and dealing with the estate administration. Often they will charge a high percentage based on the gross value of the estate. Whilst solicitors can also charge in this manner, most solicitors will renounce if asked to do so by the beneficiaries. The will writing company may refuse to do this and therefore the only way to get them removed would be a court application, which could be very costly.

Costs may also be incurred to correct a will that is not fit for purpose. What’s more, it may end up being the beneficiaries who are burdened by the financial repercussions of making a will online if the testator has passed away when these mistakes come to light.

4. Lack of verification

Online will-writers cannot be sure that the testator is who they portray themselves to be online. Unlike firms of solicitors, most online will-writers do not confirm the identity of their clients (In theory, it could be anyone sat behind the computer filling out the details for the alleged testator).

This also means that will-writing companies cannot confirm that the testator has the necessary mental capacity required to make a will. This could lead to future claims against an estate that the will is not valid due to fraud, duress, or a lack of the necessary mental capacity – all of which could end up costing the estate many thousands of pounds.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

Online wills embrace today’s technology and offer a speedy and quick service.  They are here to stay, and some online companies have a great business model and try to reduce the risks. However, other online will-writing companies do not.

Therefore it is important that if you are considering making a will online, you give thought as to whether it is right for your circumstances and you are fully aware of all of the implications before doing so.

Although making a will online may save a few pounds initially, a lack of regulation, bespoke advice and verification, together with extortionate hidden fees could have disastrous consequences for an estate – particularly the beneficiaries who are left to pick up the pieces.

When estates can be worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds, it is certainly worth paying that bit extra initially and use a professional for peace of mind that everything has been done correctly and the risks are minimised.

We've put together a set of FAQs to help you understand more about the benefits of having a will, the process and how much our bespoke Will writing services cost.

We can guide you through the process

Creating a will is just part of the succession planning process, but maintaining it is also important. We will strive to build an ongoing relationship with you to ensure that the plans you put in place today continue to be effective and applicable to yours and your beneficiaries’ changing circumstances, changes to legislation, and in legal best practice.

No matter where you are on your journey, we can support you and guide you through the process. If you’d like to discuss putting a will in place, or would like advice or guidance around the process, please contact Andrew Wilkinson, Debra Burton or fill out our enquiry form and a member of our private client team will get in touch with you shortly.

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