In theory, in England and Wales, we have complete freedom to leave all our hard-earned wealth to whoever we wish. Regrettably however, we are as a nation becoming more litigious, and there are legal mechanisms in place to challenge Wills either on their basic validity or that the claimant has not been properly provided for.
All cases hinge on their individual facts but a potentially dangerous precedent was set last year whereby Heather Ilott successfully claimed that her mother had a moral obligation to provide for her, despite the fact that they had been estranged for many years. Nonetheless the Court found in Mrs Ilott’s favour thereby depriving a number of charities of a substantial portion of her mother’s estate.
On the other side of the fence, the press recently reported that a retired accountant wishing to disinherit his estranged daughter from his £1m estate in favour of Alzheimer’s Society felt he had covered all bases by leaving a sworn statement with his Will detailing his reasoning and intentions.
There is no cast iron way of preventing challenges to a Will but preparation is vital if you do wish to disinherit those who might reasonably expect to inherit.
A more recent case involving the Will of Dorothy Whelan was decided through the Courts in November 2015, and also highlighted the importance of a properly drawn Will.
The case involved four major UK charities who were beneficiaries under a Will made in 1982. On the death of Mrs Whelan in 2012 a second home-made Will was produced which had been made in 1999 in favour of two friends. The charities successfully challenged its validity due to questions over whether the Will had been correctly signed and witnessed. The judge made specific reference to the reliability of the witnesses evidence and specifically mentioned that the Will was ‘homemade’ and drawn up in the absence of professional advice. In this case the whole of Mrs Whelan’s £1.8m estate passed to the charities and all the claimant received was an order to pay £50,000 towards the charities costs (as well as his own).
This highlights the importance of having a properly drawn Will and underlines the fact that a Will prepared by professionals is less likely to be successfully challenged in the Courts by disappointed beneficiaries.
If you would like a free initial review of your UK Will, or would like to discuss appointing The Fry Group as an executor, please contact Carole Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 (0)1903 222301.