Often there can be difficulties that arise when people use “DIY” solutions to legal matters such as wills and probate. The probate registry has recently launched its online probate application service, aimed at people dealing with deceased estates without professional assistance. It is good news that the application process has been made more accessible. But difficulties can arise when you deal with someone’s will, after they have died, without professional advice from a solicitor. Wills often contain technical wording and carry tax consequences that are not necessarily obvious. Without professional advice, you risk misunderstanding the provisions of the will and how the estate is taxed. This could lead to claims being made against you and possibly financial penalties.
We have seen many defective DIY wills, it may seem a simple thing to do, but in fact it requires considerable skill to cater for all possible scenarios. The law relating to wills, and especially inheritance tax, is complicated and sometimes people make incorrect assumptions. This can result in unintended consequences, such as assets being inherited by the wrong people or more inheritance tax being paid. In 2017/18 the HMRC collected £5.2B in inheritance tax receipts.
The risk of claims is increased where there is a home-made will. Typically there is little or no evidence about the signing and witnessing of the home-made will. This making it easier for someone to allege that it was not done properly, or forged, or that the person making the will did not fully understand and approve it. Such allegations can cause considerable delays, distress and expense.
The solicitor will have verified the person’s identity and explained the will in detail. They will also have ensured that the person fully understood it and had sufficient mental capacity to sign it. Without the safeguard of a solicitor being involved, in my view the risk of actual or alleged forgery or undue influence increases.
It is vital to consult a solicitor about how best to protect your business in the event of death or incapacity, especially where you are the sole director and owner. The consequences of failure to properly prepare for death or incapacity could be very serious. It may result in damage to the business caused by non-payment of staff, suppliers, taxes and failure to comply with regulatory obligations.
If you would like some valuable tips on how to safeguard your business our Inheritance Protection team often host free breakfast seminars to discuss this, more information can be found here.