For many, writing a will is a task we avoid doing. As a solicitor that specialises in wills and probate, I have heard countless excuses for not making a will, from not having anything to leave, to claiming that family members will sort it out. However, there has been an increase in the number of cases of people dying without making a will, and the problems that follow surpass any discomfort a client may feel about addressing the inevitable.
Recently, there have been several high profile cases of celebrities dying without writing a will, and the ensuing family arguments have been reported in the media. For example, Prince died without a making will, leaving his extended family to argue over his £230 million fortune. Within a few months of the singer-songwriter’s death, 30 potential heirs had filed a claim in the American courts. Although the American legal system differs to ours, clearly the legal fees will be much more significant than the cost of professionally drafting a will.
It’s not just the families of celebrities that are facing the fallout of a loved one dying without making a will. Recently, horror stories detailing what can happen when family members do not sign a will have hit the newspapers, with both The Telegraph (http://bit.ly/2gUwpoy) and the Daily Mail (http://dailym.ai/2ggHpNd) publishing articles about the consequences of not validating a will.
Actors Roger Lloyd Pack and Rik Mayall both died without writing a will, i.e. intestate. Their families were left to contend with the intestacy rules which operate when a person dies without leaving a will. Since the intestacy rules were written in 1925, they do not protect cohabitees and step children, nor do they accommodate modern family relationships. For clients that fall into these categories, their only option is to consider taking legal action against the estate. However, understandably, many families do not feel they are able to deal with this whilst coping with the death of a loved one.
Married clients with their own personal wealth are often surprised to find out that the intestacy rules do not pass the entire estate to the surviving spouse – some clients presume that everything automatically passes to the survivor.
Having a carefully drafted will is very important, particularly in situations where people have children with more than one partner, multiple marriages or long-term cohabitation. Common cases include the children of first marriages who have been disinherited by a parent who has died and left their estate to their new spouse. The often irreparable family rifts that follow could have been avoided by having a professionally drafted will.
Simply put, writing a will provides family members with clarity at an emotionally distressing time. If you haven’t already made a will, now could be a good time to add it to your ‘to do’ list for 2017.
For more information on making a will, contact our Wills & Probate team on 0113 201 4900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Back to Blog