It is estimated that more than half of all Australians do not have a valid or appropriate Will. With COVID-19 isolation and social distancing in place on a national level, more and more people are considering what might happen in a worst-case scenario by looking into the quickest and easiest option to get their Wills and other estate planning documents completed. However, many people mistakenly believe that simply having a Will in place is enough - but unfortunately, the document itself is usually not the most important piece of the puzzle. The most important part of a Will is the advice that goes with it and unfortunately, with a DIY Will Kit, there is generally none.
Usually, when we talk about DIY Will Kits, we mean those Will Kits that are found at post offices or come free when you purchase some types of financial products from TV adverts. We would also include in the same category Wills that are drafted by people who use Google to find “Best Will Template” or “DIY Will Kit” (hint: don’t do that!).
While many people utilise DIY Will Kits in the hope that it will save them money, that saving usually costs their estates significantly more later on, in either:
- improperly structured estates which result in the beneficiaries paying more tax than they need to,
- challenges to the Will which could have been minimised, or
- assets being given to the wrong person because of ambiguity.
They may also not understand the importance of different roles, such as the appointed executor of their Will, who gets significant control over their estate. If this is undertaken by the wrong person, the estate could financially deteriorate and listed beneficiaries may ultimately miss out.
While being able to prepare a Will in the comfort of your own home, without needing to visit a solicitor may appear to be ideal during the COVID-19 pandemic, the risks that come with DIY Wills can often far outweigh the misconceived feeling of comfort from having completed documents.
For example, the use of a DIY Will Kit in Western Australia1 cost a grieving daughter over $200,000 in costs and lost inheritance when her late mother’s Will was challenged and the contents of the Will Kit were found to be insufficient.
The Court’s hands are also tied if people utilise a DIY Will Kit as they cannot ignore that it was prepared and signed (if it was indeed signed) by the Will author. This means that a Court may be required to consider the Will Kit, even if it has unintended consequences because of poor drafting - regardless of what the beneficiaries want.
Modern technology offers safer ways to prepare a Will in isolation. Most lawyers can have video meetings with clients and are pivoting and adapting to new technology. While all states have legislation that confirms two witnesses must be present when a Will is signed, some states are currently considering legislation that would allow remote witnessing to satisfy this requirement. For now, it is best to speak to a lawyer about the options available.
Online Wills are generally a safer option than DIY Wills - at least those provided by robust and reputable providers - as these providers only allow individuals to prepare an online Will if it’s appropriate to the person’s circumstances.
We spend our lifetimes building our wealth and assets, so it is worth spending time and effort with an appropriately qualified estate planning lawyer or using a more thorough online estate planning portal to ensure our wishes will be followed and our beneficiaries will be able to grieve instead of fight for their entitlements after we pass away.