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Wills – The Dangers of Doing Them The 'Write' Way

By Associate, Wills, Tax, Trusts and Probate

News of the ongoing legal troubles faced by a grieving man trying to prove the validity of his deceased partner’s will have raised questions of the effectiveness of a handwritten will.

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Tracey Leaning died following a battle with cancer and her grieving partner, Richard Guest, was surprised to learn that she had left him her entire estate in a handwritten will, also known as a holographic last will and testament.

Her last will and testament was made in 2014, having been witnessed by her two neighbours. This document stated that Mr Guest was the sole beneficiary of her £340,000 estate and her three dogs. This will revoked her previous will of 2007 (before the couple had met), which left everything to four charities, including Dogs Trust.

Mr Guest has now spent around £10,000 in legal fees trying to prove the validity of his late partner’s holographic will.

So if you’re planning on writing up official documents that determine what will happen to your assets, what do you need to know? And is there a problem with holographic wills and their validity in a court of law?

 

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Do holographic wills count?

Holographic wills are legally valid so long as they are executed in the correct way (i.e. dated and signed by the testator and witnessed by two independent witnesses). In Mr Guest’s case it appears that the charities are arguing that the signature page wasn’t stapled to the main body of the will, which in itself would not be enough to make a will invalid.

My advice would be that, unless it is an emergency (e.g. on your death bed or a soldier at war), holographic wills are to be avoided. Creating a will on your own – handwritten or not – can make things complicated.

However, the charities may be trying to argue that the will could have been tampered with because it was not stapled together. Therefore, the neighbours who were the witnesses at the time the last will and testament was made would need to swear an affidavit confirming that this was indeed the deceased’s last will and testament and that she had sufficient capacity when the will was executed.

 

How can you avoid any confusion and contention over your will?

My advice would be that, unless it is an emergency (e.g. on your death bed or a soldier at war), holographic wills are to be avoided. Creating a will on your own – handwritten or not – can make things complicated.

A holographic will may appear to be simple, but can make things a lot more difficult, especially when dealing with a large number of assets or a high net worth estate. For example, trying to make changes to a holographic will by crossing things out can create confusion and may lead to the will being contested and taken to court.

Trying to make your own will without legal assistance can lead to mistakes or lack of clarity and could mean that your will is invalid. If you have a number of beneficiaries and your finances are complicated, it is even more important that you get a solicitor who has experience in wills and probate to create your will. This makes it easier for those you leave behind.

The law surrounding inheritances (including Inheritance Tax and trusts) is complicated. Solicitors specialising in this area will be able to help make the most effective choices.

 

 

To speak with an expert solicitor from the wills, tax, trust and probate team at Slater and Gordon please call free phone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online.

Precious Igbokwe is a solicitor in the wills, tax, trusts and probate team, based in both the Watford and London office.

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