War of the Wills. Sounds like an episode of Game of Thrones, doesn’t it? But, as we in Private Client see on an all too regular basis, the truth is often stranger (and more depressing) than fiction.
We advise our clients that having a valid Will is a sure-fire way to ensure everyone they love will benefit. However, recent statistics reveal that almost 25% of people who have Wills in place expect there to be some argument about the distribution of their estates.
Gone are the days of the nuclear family, where mum and dad leave everything to their 2.4 children and future grandchildren. Modern families are often made up of ex-partners, step-children, ‘children of the family’ and other convoluted relationships. There may be many more people in your life who may reasonably expect provision to be made for them than just your ‘blood’ relatives.
Some ageing parents name warring children as Co-Executors in their Wills in the vain hope their death will reunite the family. This ploy is hardly ever successful; with siblings refusing to release the Will to each other or withholding updates in an attempt to frustrate a proper beneficiary receiving their share.
It is also never wise to state the reason you are disinheriting a relative in your Will, as it is a public document once proved at Court. Venting your spleen is your right; but offloading slights and grievances onto paper is a guaranteed way to enflame already fractious relationships within the family.
Testators can, however, leave a nominal sum to an estranged relation on the condition the Will remains uncontested. But, this can tip off the recipient that the estate may be substantial and they may take a punt on making a claim on the off-chance of receiving a greater share.
A Discretionary Trust Will may be the solution; the beneficiaries only have a hope of benefitting, rather than a right. A Letter of Wishes sits alongside the Discretionary Trust and is a private document between you and your Executors. The Letter of Wishes sets out whom you wish (or otherwise) to benefit from your estate, when and in what sums or shares.
However, when it comes to writing your Will, we would urge you to consider the aftermath of lighting the blue touch paper – that feeling of satisfaction you may feel in disinheriting a prodigal son or daughter may translate into your estate being eaten up in legal costs accrued in the resulting claims and counter-claims; which may mean your intended beneficiary does not receive all you wished and the disinherited could benefit in any event.
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