Free Wills Month – things you might need to look out for

It's nearly Free Wills Month, so let's talk about free Wills!

October’s nearly here (believe it or not), so now’s the perfect time to talk about Free Wills Month. It’s a charity initiative that runs every March and October offering over 55s the opportunity to create a simple, basic Will for free. Talking about free Wills can be a bit of a tricky subject. If you’re going through a registered charity during Free Wills Month, you’ll be fine – but there are still some things you need to keep in mind.

Firstly though, I’ll address the elephant in the room. We’re a specialist Will writing company. We write Wills for a living. Me writing a blog warning people about free Wills during Free Wills Month seems pretty transparent, doesn’t it? Obviously it’s in my best interest to persuade people not to use free Will services.

But that’s not the point of this article. I’m not against Free Wills Month at all. I think it’s a great way to spread awareness about Wills, it offers people the opportunity to at least get a simple Will in place (which is better than nothing), and it raises money for charity. I’m just here to tell you some things you need to keep in mind, and warn you about other dangers you might encounter if you’ve got your sights set on a free Will.

A bearded man in a suit holding a pen, checking over a Will for Free Wills Month.

Free Wills

With the cost of living crisis looming, everyone’s (understandably) looking to save as many pennies as they can. A free Will’s a pretty appealing option. Why pay for something when you can get it free, right?

I get that. I’m always up for a freebie. I walk past those sample people in supermarkets like, 10 times. But when it’s something as important as your Will, you need to make sure that everything’s done properly. You need to keep your eyes peeled, you need to make sure that you check everything over, and you need to remember – as me mam used to say, you don’t get owt for nowt!

Free Wills Month

I’ll start off by talking about Charity Wills, because it’s a nice initiative and these are actually legitimate. Free Wills Month runs twice a year, and it gives people over the age of 55 the opportunity to have a free Will drawn up by a solicitor, organised by a charity. It can be a good option, but there are a couple of things you need to consider.

Firstly, Free Wills Month only covers ‘simple’ Wills. They’re only appropriate for basic wishes. If you’ve got a significant amount of assets, or your estate is on the complicated side (say, for example, you’ve got a blended family, or you’ve got specific instructions for how you want your stuff distributed), you’ll need a Bespoke Will.

Secondly, and this is a bit of an awkward one to bring up, it’s kind of expected that you’ll leave a donation to the charity in your Will. Obviously, you’d be giving money to charity, and that’s a nice thing to do. You don’t have to leave anything at all if you don’t want.

But just keep in mind – it’s an unspoken rule, and the moral obligation is there. You don’t have to, but you are expected to. Giving money to charity isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that your ‘free’ Will isn’t free, and it’s something you could do in any Will anyway.

Thirdly, and this is something you’ll want to look out for, the free Will covers a basic, simple Will. If you start the process and then it turns out that you’ve got complicated wishes, there could be charges.

Don’t get me wrong – Free Wills Month is a fantastic initiative, I’m not trying to say otherwise. I just think it’s worth keeping those things in mind. It might not be suitable for your circumstances and it might not be free.

Free / Low Cost Will scams

There are many other companies out there that offer free (or really low cost) Wills all year round – not just during Free Wills Month. Do yourself a favour – avoid ’em. Make sure you read their reviews and look out for anything suspicious. If all the reviews are 5 stars from accounts called like ‘linda226848263’, then that’s a bit of a red flag.

Here’s how it goes. They market themselves as a Will-writing service, and they charge ridiculously low prices. Sometimes they don’t charge at all. They always look the part – really corporate and professional – so you think they’re legitimate. Some of them will be legitimate, but that doesn’t mean they’re looking after your best interests.

But, as anyone who’s ever watched The Apprentice before can tell you, looks can be deceiving. Just because someone’s in a dapper suit with a shiny Rolex on their wrist doesn’t mean that they’re the bee’s knees. A lot of them turn out to be incompetent chancers.

‘Cos beneath the appearance of professionalism, hidden, tucked away in the terms and conditions, they sneak in little clauses. These are what you need to look out for.

Executor Clause

An Executor is the person who manages and distributes your assets once you’ve died. They sort out all your affairs and make sure your estate goes to whoever you’ve named in your Will. Normally your Executor is a friend or family member.

But here’s what these sneaky so-and-sos do. They slip a clause into the terms and conditions that mean that they act as your Executor (or maybe even Trustee), and then charge you fees for doing so. Although you don’t pay much for the Will, you could end up losing a lot of money to these fees. And do you think a friend or family member would charge you for doing it? Not a chance. And they’d be a lot more likely to act in your best interests.

As Executor, they can’t make changes to your Will, so don’t worry about that. All your assets will be distributed however you’ve instructed. What they can do, however, is charge you a pretty extortionate fee for their trouble – and that means your beneficiaries don’t inherit as much as they should.

You could lose thousands, and there’s no way to regulate it or get it back. You’ve signed up to it, in the terms and conditions of these supposedly ‘low cost’ Wills. Once someone’s named as your Executor, you’ll need to write a new Will to change it. That’s just a massive waste of your time and money.

Percentage of your estate

This technique has all the subtlety of a double-barrelled shotgun, but some companies do try it. They straight up just add clauses saying that upon your death, they’ll receive a small portion of your estate.

Obviously you don’t want that to happen. Who would? Even if it’s like, 1 or 2% then that’s still probably going to cost you a lot more than a normal Will (the average is about 4%). These are meant to be ‘low cost’ Wills, and although you might pay a pittance for ’em, your beneficiaries end up paying the price when they lose out on a chunk of your estate that’s gone to these cheeky little swindlers.

How to avoid them

Always make sure you’re using a reputable company and that all your needs are met. Checking that they’re a member of The Society of Will Writers is a good start – that’s a self-regulated body that ensures customers are protected. Martin Lewis says it’s legit, so… you know. It must be legit. If it’s Free Wills Month, make sure you’re using a legitimate charity that’s signed up to the scheme.

Always make sure you go through all the reviews of any company you’re using. Speak to people you know and trust – see who they used to get their Will. Trust word of mouth reviews over online ones. And, most importantly of all, always go through the terms and conditions with a fine-tooth comb. Go through them at least twice, maybe even thrice if you’re feeling particularly thorough. You can never be too careful.

Look. At Vital Documents, we care. We just want to give you the information you need so you can go out and make an informed choice about your Will. We don’t want anyone to get ripped off. Believe it or not, we’re not too bothered about who you get a Will with, as long as it’s a legitimate company and you’re getting a good service. Look into Free Wills Month and see if it’s appropriate for your situation.

Think about your options, and take your time doing it. Don’t just rush headlong into the first cheap and easy Will you see because it’s easy. It might end up leaving your nearest and dearest out of pocket when you die, and no one wants that.

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Declan Ramsden
Declan Ramsden

Declan is a Content Creator at Vital Documents! He studied English Literature for 4 years before joining the company. Outside of work, he enjoys listening to retro music and reading classic novels – particularly Charles Dickens!

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