Whilst wills appear to be relatively straight forward documents, get them wrong and the consequences can be dramatic to your nearest and dearest. And a case currently being pursued through the High Court is highlighting the risks of turning to low cost Will writing services or DIY Wills.

The case is reported by Telegraph Money and highlights the plight of a daughter whose father intended her to receive his half of a property in London.

The property was jointly owned by the father and his wife, who was not related to the daughter. They owned it as beneficial joint tenants, which meant that on his death his half of the property would pass under the rule of “survivorship” to his wife outside of the terms of the will. All that needed to be done was the father serve a short notice “severing” the joint tenancy and that would prevent his share automatically transferring to the wife on his death.

The father approached Barclays Bank to prepare a Will, at a minimal cost of £90. They drafted a will Will gifting his half of the London property to his daughter.

A competent solicitor or legal executive would have noted that the property was held as joint tenants and would have taken steps to ensure that the father “severed” the joint tenancy. Barclays failed to do so.

As a result of the bank’s failure to severe the joint tenancy, the wife receives the father’s interest in the property automatically on his death. The daughter does not receive what the father had intended and her only recourse is now against Barclays through the courts.
The case comes soon after a report published recently by the Legal Ombudsman into the provision of Wills and Probate services, which highlighted a number of areas of complaint by consumers .

That report also drew attention to the absence of recourse for consumers who engaged unregulated Will writers.

The important message from the report is that an unhappy consumer who has a complaint over the service provided by a law firm has recourse to the Legal Ombudsman. A consumer who has been poorly served by a Will writer does not have that same protection and can only turn to the courts for help.

It should be said that the Legal Ombudsman deals with complaints over service provided by a law firm. Where there has been an error of law, such as by Barclays Bank, the usual recourse for a consumer would be to pursue a court claim.

If you have concerns over whether a Will does what was intended, or have concerns over the service you have received, we can help in guiding you through your options.

James Burrows is a partner in the inheritance and trusts disputes team at Stephens Scown LLP in Truro. The firm is ranked the best in Devon and Cornwall for its work challenging Wills, by independent guide to the legal profession, Legal 500. To contact James, please call 01872 265100, email solicitors@stephens-scown.co.uk.