Home-Made Wills – Are They Worth the Risk?


In an age where everything seems to come with a price tag, most of us in one way or another will try and find cost-effective ways in which to handle our affairs in an effort to save some money.

A popular money-saving exercise that seems to have caught the attention of the thrifty amongst us is the option of writing your own Will.

On the face of it, writing your own Will appears to make sense – if you go to a solicitor, a basic Will may cost you between £100-£150 and by contrast, writing your own will could cost you nothing.

There is no obligation to instruct a solicitor when making a Will, and it is so often presumed that it is easy to leave written instructions to say who is to get what after your death.   Surely you can simply write your wishes on a piece of paper and sign it and it will be legally binding, right?

Wrong!  It may easy to write out your wishes and directions, but it is dangerous to presume that this expression of wishes will be legally binding after your death.

Making a Will yourself comes with an array of risks – if mistakes are made, or if the strict witnessing rules are not followed correctly, your Will could be deemed invalid.  If this happens, it could affect the way in which your assets are divided up – this could mean that someone who you wished to benefit from your Estate may not do so.   There can be further serious implications – you risk leaving your family with a financial and emotional mess, and there is also the potential of your assets being eaten away by legal bills or unnecessary tax.

Two recent cases decided by the High Court and Court of Appeal in England highlighted the dangers and concerns around homemade Wills:-

Watts v Watts

Valerie Watts died of cancer in 2011 – she was survived by her two adult children who were not close and who had fallen out during their mother’s final illness.  Valerie made a Will in 1999 which favoured both children.  After her death, a Will dated 2011 (alleged to be have been written by Valerie whilst she was terminally ill in hospital) was produced and this second Will excluded her daughter.  Upon Valerie’s death, the 2011 Will was challenged.  The Court heard arguments as to whether Valerie’s signature on the 2011 Will had been forged and if not, whether the Will had been validly executed by two witnesses signing the Will in Valerie’s presence and in the presence of each other.

The Court decided that Valerie’s son had forged her signature, and that two witnesses had not been present as required.  On both counts, the Will was deemed to be invalid.

Re: Wheelan

This case involved an estate worth £1.8 million.  Mrs Wheelan and her husband had made Wills through a solicitor in 1982.   Mr Wheelan died, and Mrs Wheelan thereafter signed a document in 1999 without legal assistance, purporting to be a Will.  Questions arose after Mrs Wheelan’s death as to whether the 1999 Will was properly executed in the presence of two witnesses.  Ultimately, the Court found that it was not, and despite taking the view that Mrs Wheelan intended the contents of the 1999 Will to prevail, the Will could not be considered to be valid.

As a consequence of this formal flaw, a lot of money was spent on Court proceedings and Mrs Wheelan’s  testamentary wishes could not be acted upon.  If Mrs Wheelan had spent a very modest sum of money engaging a solicitor, her £1.8 million estate would have been given to those she intended to receive it.  The fatal formal flaw in her Will however denied this inheritance to her intended beneficiaries.

The reality is that after your death, it is too late to fix any problems there are with your Will.

If the validity of your Will is challenged after your death, the Court will make an initial presumption that the Will was validly executed but it will listen to evidence to decide if this presumption should be over ruled.  Academic opinion suggests that the strength of the presumption that a Will is validly executed unless proven otherwise is weaker where the Will is homemade and a lawyer has not been involved in the process.

Wills govern the destiny of all of your assets and possessions.  It is a false economy to risk making a homemade Will.   If your personal circumstances are straightforward,  making a Will via a solicitor is a relatively inexpensive exercise and will provide you with reassurance that it is has been done the right way.   If, on the other hand, your circumstances are complicated or your assets are substantial, it is imperative that you seek full legal advice to avoid any future legal challenges or hefty tax bills.

LJohnstonLINDA JOHNSTON is a Partner in FRANCIS HANNA & CO SOLICITORS Private Client department specialising in ESTATE PLANNING, LONG TERM CARE ISSUES and DISPUTED WILLS.  If you require any advice or assistance in making a Will or challenging the validity of a Will, please contact Linda on lj@fhanna.co.uk

£30,000 settlement for the McKeever sisters against KFC in sexual harassment case

apple-150579_1280Two sisters, Kirstie and Courtney McKeever, have settled sexual harassment claims against fast food restaurant KFC in Belfast.

Both girls were forced to resign from their jobs at the fast food restaurant on the Boucher Road, Belfast after their complaints to their employer that they were being sexually harassed by a male co-worker did not end his behaviour towards them. 
They alleged that their co-worker touched and pinched them despite being asked to stop doing so, and that he exposed himself and used overtly sexual language towards them.  

The sisters say they reported the incidents to supervisors and managers but his behaviour continued. Courtney spoke of the inaction of her employer on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme:-

“They kept saying they would deal with it, but they never really did. They actually told me at one point that they were going to sack him but they didn’t and it went on for a few months after that.”

The sisters felt that they had no choice but to give up their jobs. They subsequently took a case against Herbel Restaurants, trading as KFC, and received compensation of £14,000 and £16,000 respectively.  The male co-worker against whom the complaints were made was dismissed.

Sexual harassment can occur when your employer, fellow employee of even a third party such as a customer or client behaves in an offensive manner towards you because of your sex.
Sexism, or sex discrimination, can take many forms in the workplace. It can be direct, indirect, deliberate or accidental. For example, it can occur when you are treated differently or less favourably than a member of the opposite sex. It can also occur where you are put at a disadvantage because of your gender due to certain provisions, criteria or practices that your employer has.

Employers who do nothing to stop sex discrimination in their businesses may themselves be held legally responsible for this discrimination.

What should I do if I have been sexually harassed or discriminated against?

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual discrimination in your workplace, or indeed if you have been discriminated against at work in any way, you should seek legal advice on the procedure that needs to be followed to resolve the matter. If the matter is not resolved satisfactorily by your employer, you may be able to seek compensation through the Industrial Tribunal.

if you would like any further information on this issue, please contact us confidentially using the form below or send an email to MGAVIN@FHANNA.CO.UK

Mediation: A Real Alternative to Court?

Nigel Martin trained as a Mediator at Harvard Law School in 2014 and has successfully mediated Disputes adopting the Model of Understanding.  This is the second in his series of Guest blogs which looks at alternatives to Court proceedings.

In his last blog,  Nigel looked at the processes of mediation; here he explores the benefits of mediation.



When considering Mediation as an alternative to Court proceedings the key benefits to bear in mind are as follows:-

1. Mediation saves time.

Mediation can be arranged in a matter of days or weeks. A Court hearing requires proceedings to be drafted, issued, responded to, documents to be disclosed, Expert Opinions sought, Review Hearings, Direction Hearings and obtaining a date for a Final Hearing can take many months or longer in high conflict or complex cases.

2. Mediation is forward-looking and positive.

The Court Proceedings focus on past events, conceptualising those events in terms of legal Rights or Wrongs. The Court’s remedies are relatively limited and take little account of the parties’ present or future interests. Mediation focuses on the future and how to get there. Mediation can capture value which may not ever be considered by the Court.

3. Mediation is entirely voluntary.

A party can choose to remain or withdraw from mediation at any time. By contrast, a Party to formal Court Proceedings is compelled to engage in a competitive and oppositional battle or risk a very adverse finding being made against that party.

4. Mediation is empowering and the parties control the process.

The parties together, can dictate the timetable for mediation and the speed of progress. They craft and control the outcome. Mediation can therefore happen much more quickly than waiting for a Court date. The parties can together, chose the time, date and place of the mediation to accommodate their respective timetables and ensure privacy. The Parties have complete control over costs.

5. Mediation is private and confidential.

What is said or not said during the mediation process is completely private and confidential. Strict confidentiality is provided for in the legally binding and enforceable Agreement to Mediate.

6. Mediation can preserve relationships.

The Court process requires the parties and their respective lawyers to compete against each other and the process is largely oppositional. Most of the time, effort and costs are devoted to simply resisting the forensic “push and pull” of the Opponent. Over time, that competition, is highly corrosive of any pre-existing relationship whether it be Contractor and sub-contractor, Manufacturer and Distributor, Wholesaler and Retailer, a professional or personal Partnership or a family relationship.

The process of mediation, facilitated by an expert neutral person, will not harm that underlying relationship and will in most cases preserve or enhance it. By contrast, Court Proceedings usually award one party a “Victory” and require the other party to suffer a “Defeat”. This dynamic alone is most unlikely to foster good relationships.  In Mediation, where the parties can model agreement and gain a better understanding of each other, their relationship can be enhanced even if the dispute cannot ultimately be resolved through mediation.

More information can be found on mediation, arbitration and litigation at www.nigelmartin.co.uk.

Brexit: The current law on EEA nationals living and working in NI


In the wake of the Brexit referendum on 23rd June 2016, many European nationals living and working in Northern Ireland face considerable uncertainty in terms of their future here – Will they be allowed to remain in NI where many have made family lives and homes for themselves?  Or will they have to leave and settle in either their European national state of origin or an alternative European state?

Unfortunately as it presently stands, no definitive answer has been given by the government on the effect that Brexit will have on current European nationals living and working here in NI.  
In light of this, we are here to provide you with some further information on the current law governing the right of European nationals to work and reside in NI.  
What is the European Union (EU?)

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of countries.  The countries that are part of the EU are:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK.

What is the European Economic Area (EEA)?

The European Economic Area (EEA) is the area in which agreement provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market.

The European Economic Area includes all EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.  Switzerland is neither an EU nor EEA member but is part of the single market – this means that Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in NI as other EEA nationals.

Countries that are part of the EEA are known as Member States.  Nationals of these countries are known as EEA nationals.

 Are EEA nationals permitted to live and work in the UK & Northern Ireland?

European law bestows on all EEA nationals and their family members the right to move freely and reside within the EU.  Therefore, an EEA national can live and reside in another Member State, including the UK & Northern Ireland.  Similarly, a citizen from the UK or Northern Ireland can choose to live and work in any other EU Member State.

The law governing this area in the UK is the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2006 – this piece of legislation applies and interprets the UK’s obligations under the Free Movement of Persons Directive 2004/38/EC into domestic law.

Are there any criteria that need to be satisfied?

In order to enter the UK, an EEA national must firstly produce a valid national identity card or passport issued by an EEA Member State.  Once admitted to the UK, an EEA national may live here for up to three months.

If an EEA national wishes to reside in the UK for more than three months, they will have to show that they are what is known as a ‘qualified person’.

What is a qualified person?

A qualified person is defined as an EEA national who is in the UK and exercising free movement rights.  A person will be deemed to be exercising their rights of free movement if they can satisfy that they are one of the following:-

  • a worker;
  • a job seeker;
  • a person who is permanently incapable of work owing to industrial disease or injury;
  • a person who is permanently incapable of work for reasons other than industrial disease or injury and has been resident in the UK for at least two years prior to stopping work;
  • a self employed person;
  • a self sufficient person;
  • certain retired persons;
  • some persons who are temporarily unemployed;
  • students;
What paperwork do I need to have?

Technically, no legal documentation (other than an identity card/passport) is required by an EEA national to prove that they are legally entitled to reside in another EEA Member State however many will apply for a document known as a Registration Certificate to have as confirmation of their  right of residence. Applications for a Registration Certificate are made via the UK Home Office.

Can an EEA national obtain permanent residence in the UK/NI?

An EEA national can apply for  a document certifying permanent residence in the UK/NI once they have lived here for a period of 5 years so long as throughout that time they have retained their status as a qualified person throughout that time.  This is known as a Permanent Residence Card. These applications are also made via the Home Office.

Can an EEA national obtain British citizenship?

Once an individual holds a Permanent Residence Card in the UK/NI for 12 months,  they are entitled to apply for naturalisation as a British Citizen subject to other conditions contained in the British Nationality Act 1981

Following Brexit, it will no doubt take some time before the government and individuals know specifically where we all stand in relation to the rest of the EU.  In the meantime, the above position continues to apply for those EU nationals living and working in the UK.
If you require any further information on this area of Immigration Law, please contact us here or alternatively contact mgavin@fhanna.co.uk