Wills are the way to go
The following article by Conor Pope first appeared in The Irish Times on Tuesday, October 16, 2012.
THE LAW IS NOT something which, typically, offers us great value for money. The men in grey suits who control our purse strings quickly realised this after they flew in from Frankfurt and New York once we surrendered our economic sovereignty two years ago.
The legal profession – along with doctors and dentists – was almost immediately identified by the Troika as one which needed to bring its prices down in line with Irish consumers’ post-bailout financial reality.
Many solicitors and barristers have been slow to recognise the new reality and drop their prices, but others realise that times have definitely changed and the days when newly minted solicitors could charge ridiculous fees for comparatively simple services have gone the way of the boom.
While the legal eagles get a lot of grief for their high prices, they do sometimes give something back.
Next week, for instance, solicitors will be offering great value for money, for one service at least.
Next Monday marks the start of Best Will in the World Week and more than 200 solicitors across the State will offer people help in drawing up their wills for just €50 a throw.
This amounts to a saving of anywhere between €100 and €300 depending on the practice you visit and the complexity of your life.
Trying to get a price for a will is notoriously difficult as every practice will have a different pricing structure and the prices will rise or fall depending on what you need your will to do.
By any measure then, a €50 will is good value for money. And make no mistake, there are a whole lot of people out there who should take advantage of the offer.
According to a survey published in conjunction with the Best Will in the World Week only a third of Irish people have made a will and, while the percentage of people with a will climbs as they get older, just over half the adult population aged between 45 and 64 have one.
Best Will in the World Week is trying to address the issue by offering people wills on the cheap.
It is organised by MyLegacy.ie, a coalition of over 70 Irish charities, and will see solicitors across the country offering consultations.
This umbrella body is made up of 60 Irish charities from the areas of health, children’s issues, overseas development, social issues, human rights, and animal protection, amongst others.
It was established in 2003 to raise public awareness of making a will and leaving charitable bequests and provides unbiased, useful information to individuals, charities and solicitors about leaving legacies to charities.
The people at MyLegacy.ie are not behind this initiative for nothing. They are involved because they want to encourage people making a will to leave a gift to their favourite charity.
“Not having a will can have serious consequences for your family after you are gone,” says Susan O’Dwyer, the chairwoman of MyLegacy.ie and chief executive of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “In the absence of a will, there can be bitter legal disputes and the possibility of the State having to make decisions regarding the distribution of your property and assets, and we all want to avoid that.”
She accepts that “times are tough” and leaving money to charity may not be the first thing on anyone’s mind but expresses hope that “Irish people are generous and continue to give what they can to Irish charities”.
As it happens, we’re not really that generous when it comes to giving money to good causes once we’re gone.
According to MyLegacy.ie research, just over 30 per cent of those polled said they would like to make a donation to charity in their will.
The company puts a positive spin on this number and says it represents a 100 per cent increase on the figure in May 2006. That may well be true but it does mean the vast majority of the population would rather not leave any money to charity.
And it appears we get meaner as we get older.
The desire to leave a gift to charity is highest among 18-24-year-olds – who are, in fairness, the least likely to have to put their money where their mouths are.
When it comes to the 45-64 cohort, only 26 per cent say they consider leaving a gift to a charity.
Only one in three Irish adults has made a will, while only 12 per cent of Irish people have included a charity as a beneficiary in their will, despite the fact that 62 per cent say they would consider leaving a gift to charity.
As times get tougher, the squeeze is put on charitable donations which is why they need legacy donations now more than ever.
Irish charities only raise approximately 6 per cent of their income from legacies, which compares to up to 40 per cent in the UK.
A list of the participating solicitors can be found on MyLegacy.ie
In the absence of a will, there can be bitter legal disputes and the possibility of the State having to make decisions regarding the distribution of your property
DO-IT-YOURSELF WILLS: IF YOU’VE A SIMPLE LIFE
IT IS POSSIBLE for you to draw up your own will as long as you don’t have a particularly complicated life.
Templates for wills can be found online or they can be bought in large bookshops.
Staff at the Courts Service are enormously helpful and will provide all the necessary documentation and a degree of advice – although they do have to be careful as they are not technically allowed to give legal advice.
Bear in mind that if there is any complexity, such as a divorce or children from a different relationship, a person should not look after their own will.
Kerry Clear is a solicitor with a practice on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green and, unsurprisingly, perhaps, she is down on the DIY option.
“There is a perception that drawing up your own will does not require a great deal of skill and that is not the case,” she says.
“There is also this idea that one size fits all and that is not the case either. A will totally depends on your life circumstances and people need to remember that it is not a reflection of what are your assets but what your responsibilities are.”
She has trawled the web looking for online will options and most of what she has found deal with the legal framework in the UK rather than in Ireland.
“Sometimes you get people who do their own wills but don’t have them witnessed properly.
“You need two witnesses who have to be with you at the time you all sign the will and they can not be beneficiaries.”
She also cautions that as circumstances change, the nature of a will changes.
“If you get married, any will you made before that point is completely invalid. Once you are married you can’t decide to leave everything to someone else other than your spouse unless you agree otherwise.”
The bottom line – and an imminently sensible one – is that a will (be it a professionally drawn up one by a solicitor ‘or a DIY deal) makes things easier for people you leave behind.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY TO MAKE THINGS WORK: CHARITIES BENEFIT FROM UNUSUAL BEQUESTS DOWN THE AGES
In 1835, a sailor left a parrot to St Vincent’s Hospital to be auctioned for the hospital. We have no idea how much Polly fetched.
HAVE A HEART
Croí was left a legacy with the request that the charity buy cardiac equipment for the Aran Islands. It was duly bought and presented to island GP Dr Marion Broderick.
St Patrick’s Hospital (Psychiatric) was founded as a result of a legacy left in Jonathan Swift’s will.
The Irish Heart Foundation was left an Italian shoe show.
The Abbey (previously the National Theatre Society) received a donation of £10,300 between 1904 and 1910 – the equivalent to €4 million today, from Annie Horniman (of the Horniman tea family). She also donated a Horniman’s teapot.
CRAFTY WITH COPYRIGHT
Playwright Lennox Robinson left all his copyright in his work to his wife when he died and after to the director of the National Theatre Society.
An Taisce received a gift of Kanturk Castle in Cork.
Oxfam UK has received gold teeth, a dentist’s chair, greyhounds and shares in the original Woolwich Arsenal Football Club.