Thursday 20 June 2019

Smart Consumer: Where there's a will... there's a cheaper do-it-yourself option

Tina Leonard

When Martin O'Donoghue's mum was going travelling some years ago, she first popped into a stationery shop and bought a will in an envelope for around €2.50.

Nothing wrong with that, except as a solicitor Martin knew that the limited space the formatted will provided meant there was no option to make a will that really suited her needs.

So the solicitor started the DIY wills site,, of which he is now a director. That was more than 10 years ago, so what has changed in the meantime?

"Ireland is a small market and changes haven't caught on here yet," says O'Donoghue, "but there is a move away from traditional legal services."

He maintains that if you give people access to documents they can do a lot themselves. So much so, that his company is soon to launch DIY legal services for businesses, which will include products to assist in setting up a company and transferring intellectual property rights.

"The market is going DIY," he says, "and while it may be new in Ireland, it's been developing in the US, Canada and the UK, for example, over the last 13 or so years."

But back to making wills. Whether you're a parent, have a lot of assets or just want control over what goes to whom when you pass away, it's a good idea to draw up a will.

It could cost you, though. When the National Consumer Agency (NCA) carried out a survey on solicitors' fees earlier this year, they were quoted prices of between €50 and €300 for making a will containing the same information.

How there could be a cost difference of 500pc for carrying out the same task is anybody's guess, especially as some solicitors indicated they wouldn't charge at all.

So how complicated could it be?

There are rules to making a will legally valid. It must be in writing, you must be over 18, or married and in sound mind. The will must be signed by you at the bottom in the presence of two witnesses, neither of whom can be beneficiaries or spouses or civil partners.

They must also sign the will and see you sign the will -- but not see what is written in it. If you add any changes later (a codicil) you have to follow the same requirements again.

In addition, there are things that should be contained in the will such as cancellation of any earlier wills, the appointment of executors, list of legacies and gifts, how anything left over should be distributed and more.

But can you go DIY? Of course you can, and unless your solicitor will do it for you for free, it's much cheaper.

There are plenty of online sites selling will forms and packages for you to fill in yourself. Many are international firms, adapting forms for the Irish market.

But O'Donoghue advises that you should buy a will that is prepared or approved by an Irish solicitor so that the documents are acceptable to Irish solicitors.

Secondly, he says you should make sure the documents do exactly what you want them to do. In other words there should be plenty of options for whatever you want to include, rather than a rigid form that allows you no space for things like appointing guardians or alternate beneficiaries.

On the biggest seller is the 'online will' for €27.95 where a series of questions prompt you to create a tailor-made will there and then. Or you could opt for the 'last will and testament kit' for €14.99.

Don't forget that without a will, the fate of your assets will be determined by law. So, for example, your spouse would get two-thirds and your children the remainder, or if your next of kin are parents and siblings your parents take it all.

So, save money, but do it right. An example of exactly how not to do it comes via legal firm William Fry's newsletter.

They report that an application was made to the High Court for assistance in determining how properly to divide the estate of deceased poet John O'Donoghue.

It was apparent from the one-page will that his general wish was to benefit his family and friends, but the language used was vague, plus the witnesses were also beneficiaries, which shouldn't happen. In the end, due to the uncertainty, the judge declared the will void.

Irish Independent

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