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Make your last wishes count

6.01.2016

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of people choosing to divide their assets unequally in their Will amongst various beneficiaries and not just close family members.

Whether due to old-fashioned favouritism, a rise in the number of step and extended family relationships, family disagreements or the belief that one child is more likely to squander the money, this is causing a rise in Will disputes. Leaving assets to charities or other organisations can equally cause disagreements.

A recent article in a national newspaper raised several examples of this inequality, including the case of the Matthews family. The parents have agreed to split their savings unequally in the event of their death. As a result, one daughter is due to inherit a considerable amount more than the other, whilst the son has been excluded from the Will entirely due to a disagreement. The family were photographed looking entirely relaxed with this decision, but I suspect as a young adult, it must feel hurtful to know your parents have put a price on their relationship with you.

The Ministry of Justice warns that the number of Will disputes in Britain is soaring, with the High Court hearing almost double the number of probate disputes in 2014 than in 2013. One recent case saw a Judge overturn Melita Jackson’s final wish to exclude her daughter from her Will. Mrs Jackson even wrote a letter setting out her wishes but the court decided earlier this year that her mother had made insufficient provision for her in the Will. So how can people be sure that their final wishes are carried out?

Partner Alex Astley highlights how to ensure that your last wishes count and how to help avoid future family disputes:

A letter of wishes can help to explain why you have made particular decisions in your Will and it is better to communicate these before your death to avoid surprise, but this could still be overturned if challenged in court later.

To prevent confusion in a Will, avoid nicknames or abbreviated names and if any of your family members share the same name, be specific about which person you are naming as the recipient. Always check spellings, give full names and state clearly how people are related to you.

Remember to name a substitute in case a beneficiary dies before you. If you have left your estate to your children don’t presume that (should anything happen to them) your grandchildren will automatically inherit your estate, unless you have provided for this scenario.

If you are living with someone you are not married to, they will not automatically inherit the whole of your estate if you die without leaving a Will, so make sure you make a Will setting out your wishes. Likewise be aware that if insufficient financial provision is made for them, they may make a claim against your estate for a greater share.

Remember to validate your Will. Wills need to be signed and witnessed by two appropriate people. The witnesses must not be mentioned or related to anyone mentioned in the Will.

Any manual corrections or adjustments you make to a Will after it has been signed and witnessed will be void. You need to sign a new Will or Codicil.

Getting married or entering a civil partnership will invalidate your Will unless it was made in contemplation of your marriage or civil partnership.

Consider reviewing your Will every few years and if your circumstances change, for example, with the arrival of children and grandchildren.

Remember, if you do not make a Will the intestacy rules apply so, although your estate may pass to your nearest living relations, it may not be shared as you might have hoped. If nobody can be traced, it will eventually pass to the Crown.

For peace of mind and confidence that your final wishes will be interpreted in the way you intended it is always best to seek legal advice.

Alex Astley can be reached at [email protected]

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