Review of “The Good Will Guide” by Patricia C Byron
This comparatively short book is written by a non-legally qualified person and is aimed at the lay person to encourage them to make a Will. It provides the reader with a reflection tool to enable him or her to produce guidance on their wishes for those they leave behind after making careful informed decisions. It therefore can encourage clients to think about their wishes ahead of their first meeting with a solicitor. It also helps prospective testators clarify their wishes so that their executors can honour them after their death. Patricia says she “hears first-hand the apprehension which permeates the public on [the] important subject” of Will-making.
The book begins by addressing why people should make a Will in the first place with an essential chapter on the intestacy rules – busting the ever-popular lay myth that everything will go to the spouse anyway. There is a useful flow chart showing the rules in outline as they presently stand, together with some examples to give them context.
Practitioners will be pleased to see a chapter encouraging clients to calculate the value of their estate in order to help with the decision about how to distribute it and also to have the information to hand for the meeting with the practitioner. There is a brief mention of Inheritance Tax and a recommendation to seek professional advice about its mitigation.
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Patricia explains terms such as specific, pecuniary and residuary gifts before gently raising the possibility of a doctor or solicitor acting as a witness to make it more difficult for a Will to be successfully challenged on the basis of lack of testamentary capacity.
There is a discussion of the merits or otherwise of DIY Will kits and a reference to the professional body STEP and their members’ experience of many “disastrous” examples of using such kits. The overall advice from this chapter is very welcome – professional advice should be sought.
In this technology driven age, there is consideration of online Wills with particular warning that users should check they are not appointing the online provider as executor automatically by default. The possible hazards of using Will writers are mentioned and it is sensibly recommended that clients check that the firm or individual is a member of either the Institute of Professional Will Writers or the Society of Will Writers. “If you are in doubt and uncomfortable about using a Will-writer, go to a solicitor.”
The Will-writing service offered by banks is covered, together with the warning that appointing them as executors can lead to the most expensive probate administration.
Solicitors receive a very positive initial recommendation (although they are not immune from criticism at certain points), being “legally qualified, robustly regulated and covered by insurance for the rare occasion when some form of recompense is required. In short, they appear to have all angles covered.” Although it is pointed out that some solicitors will be good and some less so, it is recommended to use a TEP qualified solicitor. The arcane language used in Wills comes in for unrestrained criticism and a lack of fees for Wills published on websites does not meet with approval either.
Having considered who to instruct in drafting the Will, the book then moves on to consider choosing the executors with an outline of the key points clients should bear in mind – lay v professional is included. Solicitors’ costs for administering estates come in for criticism.
There is a chapter on what should be covered in a letter of wishes, with a more detailed one recommended for lay executors. The merits of choosing who stores your Will are considered, together with possible costs. Certainty, a Will registration company is mentioned.
End-of-life decisions such as Lasting Powers of Attorney and Advance Decisions receive a brief mention.
The book begins its’ conclusion with a very useful chapter on when a Will should be reviewed such as a change in family or financial circumstances and points out the stumbling blocks of marriage or civil partnership revoking a Will and divorce partially revoking it. It finishes with a list of twelve things to do mainly to start the Will-writing process off and has a useful glossary of terms at the end.
The book is set out in an easy to follow logical format with simple language used in each short chapter to aid with its understanding by the lay public. There are light hearted Did You Know facts at the end of each chapter perhaps as an attempt to stop the client getting too maudlin about the process.
It’s worth recommending the book to clients before they begin the Will-making process and at the very reasonable £7.95 they might just consider buying it. It has a definite use in assisting clients to reach contentment by making a Will which they have thought through properly. Such a Will can be a good reflection of their care for their loved ones on their death.
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