I shall be covering lots of topics on Tuesdays associated with your estate planning needs. Why you should consider a professional when it comes to writing your will?

We can all write our own wills but do we know enough for it to be accepted when needed?

A Will is a legal document that states to everyone, loved ones, and the authorities what you want to happen to your assets when you die and who should look after the distribution of these assets.

If you don’t write your own, each country has its own version – intestacy laws – which dictate how your assets are distributed, and usually not what we would choose.

For basics your Will should set out:

  • who you want to benefit from your Will?
  • who should look after any children under 18?
  • who is going to sort out your estate and carry out your wishes after your death (your executor?)
  • what happens if the people you want to benefit die before you?

However, most of us need more than this especially when we consider:-

  • if we share a property/land with someone who is not your spouse or civil partner
  • if we want to leave money or property to a dependent who cannot care for themselves
  • if we have several family members who may make a claim on your Will, such as a second spouse or children from another marriage
  • if we have property overseas
  • if we have a business
  • if our children are too young to inherit
  • if we have to consider death or inheritance taxes

Reasons to Hire Professional Help When Writing Your Will

1. Costs Are Minimal

Depending upon the complexity of your financial situation, a solid, specific last will and testament can be created for you by a professional for approximately HK$6,000 – HK$25,000. While this costs far more than drafting your own will, consider the big picture for your estate planning: even if your estate is worth only $1,000,000, wouldn’t you think it prudent to spend less than 1% of that amount to make sure everything is done according to your exact wishes?

2. A Will Must Be Error-free

If you make a mistake in your will – or if you are not clear enough regarding your wishes – you are not going to be around to explain yourself or make corrections. Some common errors found in DIY wills include:

  • Forgetting to sign the will
  • Not telling anyone where the Will is kept
  • Not letting anyone know what you own
  • Forgetting to update the Will
  • Adding or updating amendments improperly and, in the process, nullifying them

Your passing is likely going to cause a lot of grief and heartache amongst your friends and family. You would not want to add confusion over the terms of your will to their loss.

3. Vague Wording Used in a Will May Cause Confusion

Keep in mind that no matter how much time you might invest in writing your own Will, many “homemade” Wills suffer from non-specific language. Far too often, the language used in these DIY Wills is vague and can easily be misinterpreted. A professional Will use standard language that doesn’t equivocate, so it can be easily understood by executors of Will, officers of the court, and beneficiaries, as applicable.

4. Your Assumptions for Writing a Will Are Likely Incorrect

If you decide to write your own will, you may do so with certain built-in assumptions that may not actually transpire. A few examples include:

  • If you will property to an heir, what happens if you outlive that heir?
  • If you will an asset to a friend/relative today, what happens if that asset is gone when your will is executed?
  • If you outlive children designated as beneficiaries in your will, what happens?
  • If you leave a house to an heir, who is responsible for the expenses of keeping up the property?
  • If you have nominated assets (insurance/pension) to one beneficiary but write another instruction through your Will for another beneficiary (a common mistake)

This list could go on ad infinitum. Suffice it to say that a professional trained in the creation of wills will know to cover these contingencies.

5. A Handwritten Will May Be Considered Invalid

Your handwritten will may not be recognized by the courts if it does not follow proper guidelines. It needs to be dated, signed, and witnessed. Also, laws concerning Wills vary by country. Retain the services of a professional to guard against potential pitfalls related to establishing the validity of your Will.

Final Thoughts

While you most certainly can write your own Will, I believe that there are too many potential problems that can arise. If your financial situation has any complexity to it at all, the chances for errors grow even more. For example, if your situation involves blended families, ex-spouses, assets overseas, or any number of other special conditions, the chances that your wishes will not be carried out increases.