A rise in will disputes predicted as demand surges for unregulated online wills

An increase in family disputes and contested will cases is extremely likely as more people turn to using online and homemade will writing services, a leading disputes solicitor has predicted.

David Tew, a Will Disputes solicitor with Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors, is raising awareness of the potential pitfalls of using unregulated and uninsured will writers advertising their product at a cheap rate on the internet after more families reported receiving inadequate cover once a loved one had passed away.

According to figures released by national research and consultancy firm Funeral Solution Expert (FSE), which analysed 26 online will writers, the most common issue rising from such cover is that customers’ affairs are often mistaken as simple when they are actually much more complex than first thought.

This has resulted in wills having to be rewritten by professional solicitors at a further cost, or assets being incorrectly presented to certain family members against the deceased’s actual wishes.

David said a large proportion of people offering online will writing services are untrained legally, and therefore not qualified to offer expert advice. They are often uninsured so there is no redress if things do go wrong.

He said: “The downfall of not using a solicitor is that if something goes wrong, then it can go seriously wrong. In some instances, these people haven’t undertaken any formal training so are unlikely to have got to grips with your estate and your assets to make sure they are divided correctly among the people you want them to go to.

“A common problem is that people’s estates and assets are more complicated than they initially think, especially given the complexity of modern family structures and the growing value of property. The risk is that assets may go uncovered by the will, and these will then be automatically given to a relative but not necessarily the one the deceased intended.

“Where there is no will or assets are not covered in a will, the Rules of Intestacy is a ranked list of relatives the assets go to automatically, such as children, parents or siblings for example, but that may not be the wish of the deceased. It can happen to couples who are unmarried and the estate would go to somebody else rather than the partner they have lived with for years but isn’t legally classed as a spouse.

“If you were to go to a solicitor, we would make sure every asset within your estate was accounted for and designated to the person you would wish it to and proper consideration was given to your wishes.

“Probate law is complex and unregulated online will makers can easily make mistakes, whether that be in in the drafting of the will or ensuring that the strict witnessing rules are properly followed when the will is signed.

“The problem is that where a will has not been prepared properly, families could be left in dispute as to how to resolve the problem. The risk is that you leave a costly dispute for your family to resolve and that can be very upsetting to families.

“As a solicitor specialising in wills disputes, we regularly see clients who had made homemade or online wills and they’ve come to us for advice because things have gone disastrously wrong and caused rifts in the family.”

Cartmell Shepherd’s Wills team are members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and undergo extensive continuing professional training. Every member of the Will Dispute Team is a full member of The Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), or working towards full membership and are experts at resolving inheritance and will disputes when things go wrong.

David said: “If you go to a trained solicitor, you have the peace of mind that the people advising you are up-to-date with any changes in law, and that is a key element when dealing with somebody’s assets.

“We are the biggest team in Cumbria dealing with will claims and we can assist and advise on all things related to probate.”

David’s message has been reinforced by the Law Society which has urged people wishing to make a will to only use a fully qualified solicitor to avoid any potential disputes occurring.

A spokesperson for the society said: “A badly drafted will can cause more problems than no will at all, so the Law Society advises against using unregulated will writers.

“All solicitors are subject to strict regulations to ensure they deliver the best service to their clients, unlike unregulated will writers.”

More information on the subject of wills and other areas of probate can be accessed on Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors’ dedicated Will Claims website (www.willclaims.co.uk). Alternatively, people can contact the company by ringing 01228 516666.

Photo: David Tew, a Wills Dispute solicitor at Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors, is warning families of the pitfalls of using online and homemade will writing services.

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