Most people make a Will so that when they die, their estate is divided among family and friends in the way that they (the testator) wish. But what happens if the estate is left to, say, a spouse and children and they all perish in the same accident as the benefactor?

This is what tragically happened to the Cousins family at the end of 2017. Mr Cousins (a multi-millionaire), his fiancé, her daughter and his two sons all died in a seaplane accident. Mr Cousins had previously had a Will drawn up that would have left the majority of his fortune in trust to his sons, but he also had a “common tragedy” clause written into the Will.

A Common Tragedy Clause sets out what would happen to a person’s estate should the beneficiaries die either before the benefactor or at the same time as the benefactor. If there is no clause, then the estate will be divided in line with the Rules of Intestacy among the nearest surviving relatives, even if they were unknown to or estranged from the benefactor. This effectively means that the estate may pass to a person or people the testator did not wish to inherit their assets. By inserting a Common Tragedy Clause (sometimes called a “catch-all provision”, “long stop provision” or a “default clause”), the testator remains in control of what happens to his or her estate and who will inherit in the event that all the primary beneficiaries die either before or at the same time as the benefactor. In Mr Cousins’ case, the Common Tragedy Clause meant that each of his brothers inherited £1,000,000 each, and the rest went to Oxfam; it is understood that Oxfam gained £41,000,000 from Mr Cousins.

It is not uncommon for Wills to contain a Common Tragedy Clause, and you don’t need to be wealthy to include one. They provide assurance, certainty and the peace of mind that the testator can choose an alternative beneficiary (usually a charity) rather than distant relatives they don’t know or don’t like, should the unthinkable happen.   

While it understandable that people don’t want to consider the possibility of tragic circumstances such as the one that befell the Cousins’ family, it is important to consider where they would wish their estate to go in such an event. A good Wills and Probate solicitor will be able to gently guide their client into talking about these issues. Oratto member lawyers are used to having difficult conversations and are able to conduct the discussions with compassion, understanding and expert knowledge. 

Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with an adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.

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