The pitfalls of a homemade will can cause more than heartache

Another day, another story of how a DIY will has been through the courts and has been successfully overthrown. Whilst the temptation might be there to try and cut corners, it really isn’t worth the financial or emotional heartache for those left behind.

The Times has published the story of a father who cut his daughter Terri Tibbles, out of his will. Whilst there is nothing legally wrong with doing this, it’s a bit risky. In my previous blog I wrote about what can happen if you choose to leave family such as sons and daughters out of your will and how it can often lead to other family members contesting a will after you’ve passed away if they feel someone has been treated unfairly.

This becomes even more difficult where DIY wills are connected, or where the legal process hasn't been followed properly.

In the case of the Tibbles family, Terri along with her four siblings, expected to inherit their father William’s £300,000 estate when he passed away. But a year before his death, William had penned a letter accompanying his will, saying that he’d been disappointed in his children, Terri and her other siblings Kelly, Susan and Cindy. William also said that his son, Paul, was financially secure and therefore did not need to inherit the money.

However, three days after William died, solicitors were handed a scribbled a note which had been “torn from a notebook”, disinheriting Terri alone, leaving her brothers and sisters to benefit.

In court, she insisted that the note could have been signed by anyone and that there had been no reasons for her father to have changed his will as they had a close father daughter relationship.

The Judge in the High Court agreed, ruling that the second will was not valid and that as a result, Terri was to inherit her father’s entire estate. In fact, the judge said that the opinion of a handwriting expert witness had been crucial and that there was moderate to strong evidence that Terri’s father was not responsible for the signing of the will.

What’s more, you can only make a will if you have the mental capacity to do so. In law, we quite often use the “Banks v Goodfellows test” to see how likely it is that an individual was of sound mind when making a will. This test is based on whether they understand the nature of the will and its effect, have some idea of the extent of the property they are disposing of and be aware of any obligations to beneficiaries.

Whilst DIY wills aren’t illegal, as such, they can cause issues, particularly in blended families or remarriages. It can also cause an emotional rift, which I have seen become irreparable many times in my career.

As with anything, it is always best to seek advice from the professionals. If you are considering writing or changing your will, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.