25th Aug 2015

Old wills

I recently assisted a family whose relative left a hand written will which was made in the early 1950s. The will form itself is an interesting document and the information it gives highlights a few of the changes that have been introduced since the 1880s. For example, the instructions make reference to the change in law on 1st January 1883 which enabled a married woman to “dispose by will of her separate property in the same manner as if she were unmarried”. They also state that “a person under twenty-one years of age, and idiots, lunatics, and persons of unsound mind cannot make a valid Will.” Now the guidance is that you must be 18 or over (unless you are in the armed forces in which case you can make a will at a younger age) and have the capacity to make a will. We also have the freedom to be idiots and leave our estates by will to whoever we chose, without any obligation to be sensible; having said that, if you are thinking about leaving a child or a spouse out of your will, or if you wish to do something unusual, you should talk it over with a solicitor first.

As lovely as it is to come across an old will from a different era, I would not generally advise leaving it so long to review and update your will. Family and financial circumstances change over time, laws and tax provisions are updated and the way in which we do things also change. If your will is decades old it is most probably time to update it.

It was much more common in the 1950s, 60s and 70s for people to make homemade wills. In the 1970s one newspaper printed a Do-It-Yourself will form for testators to cut out and complete and on the reverse of the page was that day’s TV guide. The guide included a provocative photograph of popular actress Susan George and apparently these wills proved particularly popular with some Probate Registry staff.

Now you are very unlikely to find a cut out will form in a newspaper and the general advice is not to make a homemade will unless your circumstances are extremely straight forward. Even if you do think that your wishes are straight forward, there is still great value in seeing a solicitor to fully discuss your circumstances and options as there may well be aspects of your estate planning that you have not considered. Also, if a homemade will does not work as intended it can sometimes be difficult or even impossible to put right and your intended beneficiaries may be left with no recourse.

If you have an old or a homemade will, please consider reviewing it with a solicitor, so that you and your beneficiaries can be confident that everything is in order.

When looking for a solicitor to help you with your will, I would advise you to look for someone who is a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) or Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), as members of these organisations are expected to demonstrate a certain level of experience and expertise.

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