Fifty, or even thirty years ago, if you had asked a school classroom to draw a picture of the typical British family, chances are the pupils would have drawn a picture of a husband and wife and one or two children. Yes, statistically it is likely that there would have been a few single-parent families in the representations, but ideas of the nuclear, heteronormative family were, back then, entrenched and largely unchallenged.
Today, more and more children belong to families made up of single parents, co-habiting parents, same-sex couples, step-families, and mixed families living across different households. Inevitably, the changing structure of "family" has had to be recognised in family and probate law and, on occasion, makes the related legal processes more challenging.
The Central County Court contentious probate decision in Blyth v Estate of Charles Caudle has shown the importance of having a convincing body of evidence when contesting a Will, particularly if the claim is being brought in estoppel.
Lloyds Bank is in hot water over an embarrassing failure to disclose the Wills of 9,000 deceased customers, a bungle which has – in a probate solicitor’s worst nightmare – led to hundreds of estates potentially being distributed incorrectly.
The Wills were stored as part of the bank’s now defunct “safe custody” service for Wills. In an attempt to seemingly downplay the error, Lloyds has said that the “vast majority” of estates concerned were unaffected, either because the stored Will had been superseded by a new document or because a duplicate had been successfully stored in another location.
It is a sign of great trust to be named the executor of an estate in a Will, but it is also an onerous responsibility that not everyone will have the time and the energy to fulfil. The reality is that even the most organised and time-rich of individuals will find the assistance of a professional probate solicitor helpful.
If you are to accept the role of executor, it is vital that you first understand the full ramifications of the position and the inherent responsibilities. This should begin with understanding that executor responsibilities commence almost at the point of death; although registering the death is not the executor’s responsibility per se, in many instances it does become so.
Figures from a leading provider of legacy information to charities, Smee & Ford, have revealed that in the UK in 2018 more than £3 billion was bequeathed to charities in Wills. There are some interesting trends: not only is the figure 50 per cent higher than it was a decade ago, it is the smaller charities who are increasingly becoming the beneficiaries. This follows a number of high-profile scandals involving larger charities – for example, Kids Company in 2015 and Oxfam in 2018.
There is also the negative issue of pressure tactics applied by some of the major charities. For example, in 2015, a 92-year-old poppy seller was found to have committed suicide following an assault of so-called “begging letters” from charities – a practice which has now been criticised by the UK’s fundraising watchdog, the Charity Commission.