Chapter 8

The Wisdom of Doing It Yourself

‘If you think it’s expensive to
hire a professional to do the job,
wait until you hire an amateur.’
Paul ‘Red’ Adair,
Oil well firefighter

Now, anyone who is not lame or mute, can dance and sing. But you wouldn’t want to see me on The Voice or The X Factor. In much the same way, anyone of above average intelligence can write their own will. But should they?

They’re chemists, they’re marketing folk or they’re IT analysts. Sometimes they’re teachers, shop owners or financial advisers. Some are in the police force. Many of my clients are retired.

You get the picture. My clients are from every manner of occupation and vocation. Some people find it remarkable that I number solicitors and lawyers among my clients. A couple of my recent clients are clerks of barristers’ chambers.

Even Lawyers Need Experts

I’m put in mind of Warren Earl Burger. Mr Burger, was, for 17 years, Chief Justice of the United States. (Not to be confused with his immediate predecessor, Earl Warren.) On his death in 1995, Mr Burger left a one-page, 176-word will he’d drafted and typed himself. His family paid $450,000 in estate taxes and fees. His estate was worth $1.8 million. My American colleagues tell me his family could have kept 98% of his estate. As it turned out they ended up with about 75%.

Yes, I number lawyers among my clients.

Why, I hear you ask, with all their legal knowledge do these legal practitioners come to me? Why don’t they simply write their own wills? Simply put, they are not inheritance professionals. They recognise their skill, experience and training in their own specialisms. They understand the liability they would be assuming. They know they would not trust their family’s financial future to an amateur. They want someone with the training, skills and experience to plan their family’s inheritance. They don’t want their families to end up like the Chief Justice’s. They want their beneficiaries to avoid any and every uncertainty regarding the distribution of their estate. They want someone who can be held to account.

And, above all, they’re transferring the liability.
After all, what sort of lawyer would want themselves for a client?

‘A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.’
Alexander Pope

The Cost of Getting It Wrong

You might have heard of people who worked with asbestos, or other dangerous chemicals or minerals, but the resultant illnesses became known several years or decades after the contact. Despite the time lag, the victims of such cases can bring claims, which are honoured by the relevant insurers. At the time of the incident or contact, the insurers, the insured or the victims had no idea that asbestos was dangerous and could cause disease. Nonetheless, the insurers covered the risk.

This isn’t the case when you write your own will.

No matter how simple you think your will is, what if you got it wrong? You wouldn’t know. You’d never know. You’ll be dead before it came to light.

You have just one chance; you’ve got no opportunity to be heuristic.

False Economies

Hello Ade,

Happy New Year!

I am preparing your 2015-16 tax return.

Would you like to add home office costs, and if so can you let me know the amounts for: mortgage interest, gas, electricity, service charge, council tax.

Can you also let me know your mileage and telephone and broadband costs?

Thanks

Ingrid

I get an email like the one above from my accountant, Ingrid, every year. I could save a few hundred pounds by doing my taxes myself, but it would be false economy verging on the foolish.