I have been working as a solicitor for more than 30 years. With every day that passes I begin to feel (and possibly look) like Victor Meldrew from the TV programme, One Foot in the Grave. I find myself frequently saying ‘I don’t believe it!’.
Sadly, I deal with inheritance disputes, and even more sadly, I see families falling out about the estate of a family member who has died. What is all the more tragic is that many of these disputes would never arise if people made a formal will to set out their wishes.
From love to war
I recently represented the long-term partner of a very successful businessman. They had been together for over 20 years. He knew that he was dying of an incurable disease. He had advice from a solicitor that he should make a will, but he refused to sign one. When he died without a will, none of his estate went to his long-term partner, but instead went to the children of his former wife.
To say that disagreement erupted between family members was an understatement. Court proceedings had to be commenced for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance Act 1975. The close family who one year were sharing Christmas dinner around a dining room table found themselves the next year arguing around a lawyer’s table.
All of this could have been avoided if he had made a carefully considered will – making provision for the partner he loved.
Protecting your business
Another successful businessman was in partnership with his brother. They both received professional advice that they should make wills and that they should be updated from time to time. Although they both made a will to ensure the continuation of their business, they failed to update their wills when their business was changed from a limited company to a partnership. This meant that when one of the brothers died unexpectedly, the provisions in the will about company shares became invalid.
Expect the unexpected
A wealthy man sadly had a history of failed relationships, with a variety of children by different partners. He found it ‘too difficult’ to work out the provision that he wanted to make for each of his children and former partners. He thought he would live for many years and spend most of their inheritance before he died and he said that they could ‘fight about what was left’.
Unexpected things happen. This man died, unexpectedly, shortly after he retired, leaving a large estate for his children to do exactly as he had predicted – namely fight about what was left.
Everybody dies, so make a will!
The story that I get from so many clients is that their loved one ‘never thought that they would die’. As I said at the outset of this article – I just don’t believe it!
When I give advice that people should make a will I do this not from self-interest, but because I genuinely hate to see families fall out at such a sad time.
If things do go wrong then a good lawyer can tell you about the pragmatic steps that can be taken to resolve a difficult situation without causing needless and undue family disharmony. Many advisors will not charge for initial telephone, or personal, advice – advice that can be priceless.