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Are downloadable wills a wise way to save on legal fees?

They might seem a convenient option but a High Court judge warned this week that such wills are ‘extremely unsafe’

What are downloadable wills?

An online search for a “will template” returns numerous results for printable “do-it yourself” outlines from websites located in Ireland and abroad. Some providers request a fee and offer different template versions to cater for various marital and parental statuses.

Such documents may be more widely available due to the advent of the internet, but solicitor Jenny Powell, who has more than 20 years of experience in the area of probate law, said hard-copy versions have long been available for purchase in certain stationary shops.

Ms Powell, of Michael Powell Solicitors, said some templated wills have proved “problematic” when she has been asked by executors of deceased person’s estates to establish their validity.

Why are they in the news?

This week the High Court judge who oversees probate cases cautioned against the use of online templates as, she said, they are an “extremely unsafe” method for ensuring one’s intentions are carried out after death. Ms Justice Siobhán Stack acknowledged that solicitor-drafted wills can cause difficulties for interpreting a deceased person’s intentions but, she said, such issues are “much more likely to arise in the case of a home-made will”.


Professional advice should be sought when making a will, she said, while ruling in a case that was brought over difficulties interpreting a man’s will that was contained in an internet-sourced template. In this case the judge had to consider seemingly clashing clauses and to interpret a term she said was unknown to Irish or neighbouring law.

Are they legitimate legal documents?

Infamously, wills can take the form of scribbles on the back of a beer mat if signed when witnessed by two independent observers, said Ms Powell. This option is “important” as it provides someone on their deathbed with an opportunity to set out their wishes, she said. Wills written on downloaded templates are for the same reason legitimate if properly signed and witnessed.

What do experts say about them?

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the Law Society said it “encourages people to exercise caution” if making a will without a solicitor’s advice.

There “may be situations” where a will can be made safely without solicitor involvement but such instances are “likely to be rare” given the complexities of modern family circumstances and the potential range of assets people hold.

The society recommends that everyone over the age of 18 has a will to ensure their property and other possessions go to people they choose.

Ms Powell said some of the primary pitfalls of home-made wills are that they are too vague, contain poor wording or do not have “backup” clauses in the event a provision no longer applies or an intended recipient predeceases the will-maker.

Are they worth the risk?

Legal services for will-makers can cost a couple of hundred euros, but it is not uncommon for solicitors to offer their advice on wills for free if providing other more expansive services to a client, said Ms Powell.

Solicitors are often drafted in by executors looking to prove a deceased’s home-made will, but by this stage it may be too late to correct any errors or to clarify clauses. An unclear will can cause family rifts, Ms Powell added. If a solicitor was present at the time of its writing, family members will know that “at least the person had independent legal advice”.

A small error can unravel a deceased’s wishes, and the avoidance of a relatively small legal fee at the time of the will’s conception could result in thousands of euros being spent interpreting the will or defending it from challenge at the High Court, she said.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter