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The hidden costs of homemade Wills

View profile for Madelaine Prior
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The dispute between Aretha Franklin’s sons over their late mothers Will provides a cautionary reminder for those contemplating making a homemade Will.

Since their mother’s passing in 2018, Aretha Franklin’s sons have accumulated an enormous legal bill in their fight over which of two handwritten documents found at their mother’s property should be regarded as her last testament. The inheritance each son was to receive depended on this.

On Tuesday 11th July 2023 a Michigan jury determined that a document found in Aretha Franklin’s sofa dated 2014 was her last valid Will. The jurors considered the document had revoked a series of papers dated June 2010 found inside a locked cabinet which one son argued was the valid Will.

This case demonstrates that whilst it is possible to draft your own Will, by doing so you run the risk of future family turmoil and significant legal costs after you have died.

If you are considering drafting your own Will, it is important you are aware that to be deemed as valid, your Will must adhere to strict legal requirements. It would be interesting to know whether Aretha Franklin’s 2014 Will would be deemed valid by English Law.

In England and Wales, a Will is effective only if (amongst other things) it is correctly drafted, signed and witnessed in accordance with the provisions of the Wills Act 1837. A professional who deals with Wills on a day-to-day basis will be best placed to ensure your Will complies with these formalities and is valid on your death.

Whilst a homemade Will might be very cheap or free to make it could be very costly in the long-run if the Will is invalid or unsuitable, in terms of the legal disputes that might arise and the emotional costs that inevitably comes with legal disputes.  Lawyers are seeing a big increase in disputes between family members over estates.   Even if there is no dispute, a badly drafted Will can mean that the estate is more difficult to administer, which again can increase costs especially if Court guidance is required. 

Homemade Wills risk containing errors and mistakes.

Instructing a legal professional will also help to ensure:

  • Your wishes for the distribution of your estate are carried out correctly on your death;
  • The mitigation of Inheritance Tax if this is appropriate having reviewed and carefully considered yours and your families’ circumstances; 
  • That you are aware of ways to provide for your spouse/partner on your death whilst preserving the inheritance of your children/grandchildren;
  • That any disabled or vulnerable relatives you wish to benefit in your Will are provided for in a way which will not adversely affecting their circumstances;
  • Family disputes after your death are limited (or if anticipated, are prepared for);
  • The prospects of someone challenging your Will are limited;
  • That by making a Will, you have the capacity required by law to do so;
  • The solvency of your estate and preventing insolvency on your death;
  • That you are aware of all the options available for the formation of your Will.

It should be noted that solicitors are regulated in terms of the standard of service that they provide to their clients and cannot practice without having professional indemnity insurance cover in place. 

When considering how you want to make a Will, do think about value as well as cost.  It is good to be well-prepared for the eventuality of death.

What to do next?

If you do not already have a Will in place, please contact a member of our Private Client team today.

Please email Caroline Farmer or Call 01242 574244 and ask to speak to our Private Client team. 

We can also help in the following situations:

  • If you are concerned about the terms of a Will or circumstances in which it was prepared;
  • If a loved one has recently passed away leaving no Will and you require some guidance;
  • If someone you know has recently passed away, there is a lack of provision made for you under their Will or intestacy and you believe you should be due some inheritance.

We look forward to hearing from you. 

The information contained on this page has been prepared for the purpose of this blog/article only. The content should not be regarded at any time as a substitute for taking legal advice.