Making a will may seem like a daunting task, but it is essential. Your will directs how your estate will be distributed after your death which gives you an element of control over who benefits, who doesn’t and, to some degree, how your life is remembered. The absence of a valid Will resulted in a dispute which was heard recently by the High Court which clearly demonstrated: making a will is essential, maintaining it is crucial.
Like many married couples, Alan and Margaret made mirror wills appointing each other as sole executor and beneficiary of their respective estates. Sadly, the couple died within months of each other in 2019, leaving no children. Their wills made no provision for what should happen to their estate if their spouse had already died, so the High Court had to step in to make a decision on how those estates should be distributed.
It is easy to understand how the situation arose. Margaret died of cancer in February 2019 and Alan, unfortunately, followed unexpectedly in May that year. Intending to make a new will after his wife’s death, Alan had visited his solicitor but had not executed the document.
Under these circumstances, the law of intestacy came into play meaning that only the family of the person who died last would benefit. Alan’s entire estate, including inheritance from his late wife’s estate, was distributed to his next of kin: his brother, sister, and nephews. As Margaret died first, her family received nothing.
This case clearly illustrates two things:
- a will should be a comprehensive document that addresses various eventualities
- a will is a fluid document. It should reflect your circumstances so maintaining it is crucial.
Ellie Holland leads the Wilkes Partnership’s Private Client team from the Solihull office and has extensive experience across a range of inheritance issues including mitigating inheritance tax and financial planning. Ellie’s advice is simple “It is important to consider reviewing your will on a regular basis. Our lives change often, in terms of finances, family, friends, or tax position, so a will should reflect those changes”.
A professionally drafted will often makes provision for a main or sole beneficiary but, should that beneficiary pre-decease you, it is worth considering whether the inheritance that they would have received is ‘diverted’ to another beneficiary of your choosing. As Alan and Margaret’s case shows, leaving your estate to be administered according to the rules of intestacy may not be in line with your wishes.
Dying intestate (without making a will) can lead to a variety of issues including unnecessary inheritance tax liabilities or disputes between family and friends. Tax or fees resulting from a dispute could be costly to the estate meaning that not making a will could actually be a false economy. It could also mean that minors (18 years of age) inherit, whereas leaving a will would allow you to set a more suitable age for that inheritance.
In conclusion, Ellie said “Having a will drafted by a professional may be less expensive than you think. A properly drafted will can mitigate the level of inheritance tax applied to your estate, and it gives you the peace of mind that comes of knowing that your affairs will be properly taken care of after your death. Making a will is essential, maintaining it is crucial”.