Following on from my previous column on the problems with Post Office Will Kits, I am going to get on my soap box again in relation to do-it-yourself online wills.
You’ve probably seen those Facebook ads for online will services where they advertise things like “Write your Will without the hefty lawyer’s fee in 20 minutes” or something similar. If you read carefully you will note the fine print confirming there is still a charge for preparing a will via the website (which is heftier than my basic will fee I should add!).
From trawling through one of these websites myself, it appears that after setting up a “secure” account, there are a series of basic questions that are asked and a will template is automatically generated based on the responses. There is a small disclaimer before printing the document that indicates the will was not generated or reviewed by a solicitor and the website essentially declares they are not liable for any problems with the finished product. You then print said “will”, hopefully, understand the instructions for how it should be signed and witnessed, and actually remember to get that done. You then have a document that this website calls a valid will.
The problems…well, I don’t have enough space to go through them all but here are some of the more obvious ones. These will templates are generated on some very basic questions only and may not take into account the significant differences in each person’s individual assets or family situation. As far as I can see on the website I explored, there is no option to provide information outside the set questions which might be relevant eg. an estranged family member, an interest in a family business, or an anticipated future change in circumstances, all of which may have an effect on your estate planning needs. There is also no legal advice provided so while you may think the document does everything you want, there is no one to go through and explain it’s actual effect to you. I have also seen a number of these online wills with clauses that are unenforceable in NSW such as “If x makes a claim for further provision from my estate, then they forfeit any bequest I have left them in this will”. One of the biggest problems with these websites in my view is that the will-maker is left in charge of executing the will properly and this is too often done incorrectly.
If you want a will prepared to suit your individual circumstances, these generic online will services are not the way to go. Go see a solicitor and pay the fee to get the will prepared to suit you, to avoid the much heftier fee of estate litigation later, it’s as simple as that.
KC Hilton, WNB Legal