This week’s newspaper front pages have been full of stories regarding a Court of Appeal decision to ignore the terms of Melita Jackson’s Will and to make provision for her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott. This decision has gone entirely against what Melita Jackson put in her Will, as she had not wanted her daughter to benefit at all.
Could this happen to you – could your wishes end up being ignored after your death? If so, why make a Will at all? How can you stop it from happening?
Could this happen to you?
Heather brought her claim against her mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 which allows certain categories of beneficiaries to make a claim, if they feel that they have not been adequately provided for.
This Act is only likely to be of concern to you, if you are intending to exclude someone from your Will that you should reasonably be expected to provide for.
It is important to point out that this new ruling in Heather Ilott’s case has not changed the law at all.
Why did the Judges vary the Will in this case?
In Heather Ilott’s case, she was an only child and her mother had left her entire estate to three animal charities with whom it was said she had no real connection.
Furthermore, Heather was in dire financial circumstances and was reliant on the State to support herself and her family. The Court took account of this when deciding to award her £164,000 from her mother’s estate of £500,000.
Every case is different and Judges will weigh up all of the varying factors before using their discretion.
Why make a Will at all, if it can be varied like this?
It’s still vital to make a Will to ensure that your wishes are properly documented.
Although Will disputes are generally considered to be on the rise, it is still far better to have your wishes set out expressly in your Will. This can hugely reduce the likelihood of a dispute among surviving family members after you have gone.
Having your wishes properly documented means that those left behind will know exactly what you want.
How can you stop this happening to your Will?
The short answer is no.
There is never any guarantee that your wishes cannot not be challenged after you have died but you can take steps to reduce the likelihood of this.
Firstly, make sure that you use a properly trained and authorised Solicitor. Have a look on the Law Society website to find someone suitable. He or she will have the expertise to advise you comprehensively about the law based on your own personal circumstances.
If you are looking to exclude someone from your Will, then we would advise that you set out the reasons for this. If there is a dispute, this then gives those challenging your Will clear insight into your reasoning. You can set out your reasoning in a Letter of Wishes, which your Solicitor can help draft for you.