DIY wills fuel spike in UK inheritance disputes

Canadians should take heed after Do-it-yourself wills were blamed for a post-pandemic spike in U.K. will challenges. 

According to a news report by the London-based Financial Times, a freedom of information request by local law firm Nockolds revealed that almost 10,000 challenges were made to the distribution of inherited estates in English and Welsh courts during 2021, up 37 per cent compared with the total in 2019.

Daniel Winter, a lawyer with Nockolds, told the newspaper that the jump could be explained by a combination of higher property values and a spate of hurriedly self-drafted wills during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown period. 

There are no equivalent Canadian statistics available, but the trend here is probably quite similar, judging by the ever-expanding caseload on Ontario’s clogged estates list. 

The Covid pandemic forced many of us to confront our own mortality, and while I would normally welcome any development that encourages people to get a will in place, the problem is that doing it yourself without the benefit of legal advice almost always ends up costing more in the long run than you save in the moment. 

I understand the appeal of a low-cost option, but what DIY testators fail to account for are the longer-term consequences of omissions, cut corners and mistakes that a competent lawyer would have caught for them. 

As the U.K. experience confirms, these oversights mean many DIY wills end up in litigation, where the legal costs eat into the value of the estate, depleting the assets available to your intended heirs.  

In days gone by, will kits picked up from a stationer were a worryingly popular product among Canadians, but the concept has since migrated online, where it is an equally bad idea in its digital form as it was in paper.   

I would urge anyone who drafted their own emergency wills during the lockdown period to have it reviewed by an experienced lawyer who can ensure that it accurately reflects your wishes. In addition, lawyers can help to minimize the tax burden on the estate and talk you through the role of executor to ensure you pick the right person for that crucial job.

The more complicated and valuable your assets are, the more essential it is to obtain sound legal advice before finalizing an estate plan. 

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