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Four common mistakes when writing a will

The most common errors people can make when writing a will and how to avoid them.

2 min read


Spoiler alert – you’re going to die! And without a water-tight will you can’t be certain your wealth will achieve what you want it to after you’re gone. If you haven’t written yours yet, read on. But even if you have – read on…

The world of wills is full of mistakes, misconceptions and missed opportunities. You may be sitting on a potential problem and not even know it.

So without any further ado, here are four common mistakes we come across as professional purveyors of post-life wealth plans.


1) taking the easy way

‘High Street wills’ are all the rage. You take them off the shelf, fill them in and file them. Job done. Alternatively, many solicitors out there will simply listen to your wishes, write them down, and produce a will that reflects exactly what you said.

But if you do it that way you could potentially be missing a trick. Lots of tricks in fact.

Everybody’s life is different so there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all way to leave your wealth behind. To make absolutely sure you get the will that best reflects your wishes, you should consider speaking to a specialist estate planning adviser who can look at your specific situation and create a will tailored to your needs.

They almost certainly will know more about how to structure your will and your wealth than you. They could help you make absolutely sure the right people receive the right things from you in the most efficient way.

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“The world of wills is full of mistakes, misconceptions and missed opportunities. You may be sitting on a potential problem and not even know it.”

2) Assuming your circumstances won’t change

It’s crucial to keep your will up to date. It’s really not a ‘once and done’ thing. When you write one, you tend to write it based on that exact moment in time; it reflects a snapshot of your life. But things change, not just with you but with the people you care about.

It’s a harsh fact of life that people get divorced, fall out or pass away. But it’s a happy fact of life that people reconcile, have their own families or re-build their lives. The old Yiddish proverb says ‘man plans and God laughs’, but letting your will become irrelevant is no laughing matter. So as your life changes, it’s well worth thinking about changing your will to reflect your circumstances.


3) Leaving it too late

Wills are for older people to think about, right? Wrong! In our experience, a lot of people think that if they’re in their 20s they’re too young to worry about such things, especially if they don’t have anyone depending on them yet. Many of our clients only start thinking about it in their 60s, as they approach retirement.

But a will is not a financial tool exclusively for your twilight years. Let’s face it, death doesn’t care how old you are. It can come to any of us, any time.

And if it comes to you sooner rather than later, say, when you’re in your 20s and still single, your assets may automatically go to your mum and dad. That might actually be exactly what you want. But if it happens without firm financial structures in place it could create unwanted bureaucracy – for example around potential tax obligations – that becomes a burden instead of a blessing.


4) Not explaining your decisions

It’s worth remembering your will can be in your own words. It’s a way of speaking to your family even though you’re no longer around, which can be extremely powerful. This gives you the opportunity to explain how you’ve decided to distribute your assets when you die.

Life’s complicated. Family’s complicated. You may well leave key people out of your will. That’s your right and your choice. But in our experience it’s good to explain why as it’ll help your family heal after you’re gone.

You may choose to leave more money to one child than another. Perhaps you have two families and want to give your younger children more than their grown-up siblings because the latter are already making their own money. That makes sense. But it’s good to spell out those reasons to avoid any dismay – or crucially even dispute – around your will.

And whenever possible, you shouldn’t necessarily wait to discuss the thinking behind your will. Do it sooner. Talk to your loved ones about it while you’re writing it. Explain it to them, involve them, and give them a chance to ask you about it.


How Coutts could help

The Coutts estate planning team offers a bespoke will writing and estate planning service for clients. They can talk you through the whole process and provide the relevant legal and financial advice. The bank can even act as the executor of your will if you prefer. Fees apply.

Find out more about the services available at Coutts. For more information, speak to your private banker or contact Coutts 24 on 020 7957 2424.

This article is based on our understanding of current tax law and practice as at September 2019.

Key Takeaways

There are a number of common mistakes made when writing a will that, if unchecked, could cause serious problems. They include:

·         not taking the proper guidance to tailor it to your needs

·         failing to keep it up to date

·         assuming you’re too young

·         neglecting to explain it to your loved ones

Our experts at Coutts can help you through the process with our bespoke will writing and estate planning service.