Why can’t most people afford a Will?

We know that every adult should have a Will. There is never an appropriate situation to die intestate; it leaves a mess for your loved ones, and key appointments like those of the Trustee or the guardians for children are left up to the courts. However, lawyers continue to charge several hundreds of dollars or pounds to prepare what is often a very simple document.

Canada’s top judge once again berated the legal profession for making themselves inaccessible to the majority of citizens. It’s nothing new, she said the same thing a year and a half ago. She made the point that writing a Will is a basic right, and everybody needs one, but how many people can afford $600, and why would a lawyer charge this much for a Will that could be generated by an intern by using Will creation software.

If we look at the average pay of “the 90%”, in the US, they are making about $36k a year. After paying bills, it doesn’t leave much for a discretionary spend of $600 for a Will. Particularly, if the Will might only have a useful lifespan of a few months or a year. Does this mean that 90% of the population have to just do without?

One of the comments under this article summed it up beautifully

When you have to work a week to pay one hour of legal fees, the system is broken.

Other options are available, like the blank form Will kit, but as we’ve written in the past, they are terrible, and it’s not fair that people on a tight budget should have to make do with a solution that is inherently problematic.

Yesterday we received a wonderful letter from a customer;

I have just completed an on-line Will for my 82 year old mother-in-law who is about to have a hip replacement operation, not serious but made her think about her Will. She has no property and her estate is worth less that £10,000 enough for her funeral and a few Premium bonds left to the children. She is currently living off a state pension so £200 solicitors fees for a Will would have meant hardship. Your software was easy to use and took up very little of my time.   The price of £25 was excellent value for money and affordable for a person on a state pension….You should be very proud of your Company and I wish you every success

We are indeed very proud of our company and what we are able to do. Through the services at LegalWills.caUSLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk we have been able to help tens of thousands of people prepare their own Will, every bit as solid as a Will created by a professional, but at an affordable price. We do feel that writing a high quality, legal Will is a basic human right and that legal professionals are too expensive for the vast majority. We also feel that lawyers and solicitors charge too much for what is often a very simple service.

Unfortunately today, this is a conversation you will rarely hear

Client: “I want a simple Will, everything I own to go to my spouse, and if something happens to both of us, to be shared equally between my two adult children”.
Lawyer: “You know, that will only take about 10 minutes, and I can get a legal clerk to put it together – let’s call it $25”.
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How to forge a Will

The title of course is tongue-in-cheek, but it seems that from all of the news lately, there has been a sudden spate of estate disputes and legal challenges. Either because a Will has been forged, signed under duress or written by somebody without the capacity to write the Will. These cases demonstrate that the prospect of an inheritance can bring out the worst in people, create rifts in families, and can result in very expensive legal battles that serve nobody other than the lawyers.

It starts with the bizarre trial of Peter/ Tony Chan who was convicted of forging the Will of Nina Wang – once Asia’s richest woman. Trying to forge a $4 Billion Will is a tricky crime to get away with, and it resulted in a 12 year jail sentence. But Mr Chan was not alone. Next was the Will of Harinder Singh Brar, Maharaja of Faridkot, with another $4 Billion estate. This time it was a team of staff members who connived to leave the entire estate to themselves in Trust, but the courts ruled that the Will was made under duress and therefore illegal.

However, it’s actually more likely that a Will would be manipulated or forged for a more modest estate, and this was the topic of a recent article in the Daily Telegraph discussing the rapid increase in legal battles over estates. There are three key reasons for this rise; firstly, the size of the average estate in the UK has risen from £150k to £265k in a decade. In addition, people are starting to depend on an inheritance as part of their own financial plan – consumer debt is rising and many are banking on an inheritance to get themselves out of debt. And finally, society in general has become more litigious over the years.

Contrary to popular opinion, writing a Will through an online service does not make the document any more likely to be challenged. In fact, just recently, a Will drawn up by a solicitor while in the presence of one daughter, was deemed invalid as the testator did not have mental capacity to write the Will. Turns out that the daughter (who happened to be a magistrate) put pressure on her mother to disinherit the other children. Oh, and she had to pay back the £18,000 in gifts she received in the last few months of her frail life. The real tragedy of this story though is that the estate was worth about £200k, and the whole lot disappeared in legal fees. The whole estate went to the lawyers.

There are some lessons to be taken from this troubling stories. Most importantly, write your Will when you are young enough and have the mental capacity to do it. People procrastinate with their Will writing, thinking that they will prepare it when they are older. We hear all the time people saying “fortunately, I don’t need a Will yet?”. Obviously you don’t, you don’t need a Will until you die, but it’s too late to write one then.

This is one of the reasons that online services like those offered by LegalWills.ca, USLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk are becoming increasingly popular. They allow you to prepare your Will in your own time, on your own terms, but also allow you to update your Will throughout your life, as often as you wish. It makes sense to prepare a Will today, and then just update it as circumstances change.