If you already have a Will but have not updated it following a change in circumstances, then the outcome of Martin v Williams may prompt you into action. It also threw light on the rights of cohabitees to make claims for financial provision from the estate of a deceased partner.
Under the provisions of the Inheritance Act 1975, cohabitees must prove that they were living as husband and wife (or as civil partners for same-sex couples) for a least two years prior to their death to make a claim. However, claims made by cohabitees are restricted to covering maintenance, i.e. living costs.
In the aforementioned case, Mr Martin made a Will 28 years prior to his death in 2014. In it, he left his residuary estate to his wife from whom he later separated. He then lived with his new partner, Mrs Williams from 2009 and they owned equal shares of their property as tenants in common. Mrs Williams was also the joint owner of another property with her sister, which they had inherited from their father and was occupied by her sister.
The Law Commission says that Wills need to be brought into the 21st century. In many ways, the urgency makes sense. For at least a decade now most of us have been using digital technology to help us negotiate our banking, shopping, working lives, dating, and family lives, – the list could go – but one area in which we are yet to fully embrace the digital, remains Wills, where we are still doing things in largely the same way our Victorian forbears did.
But, before we throw out the baby with the bathwater, not everything that is old is out-dated, so the question has to be, is our current Wills system fit for purpose in the year 2017 and for the foreseeable beyond? Does it do enough to protect vulnerable members of society; does it provide fairness, cost effectiveness, efficiency, reliability and accessibility?
Three women who faked their elderly neighbour's Will have received custodial sentences following a trial at Cardiff Crown Court. Karen O'Brien was sentenced to four and a half years, Gemma Gauci to four years and Leanne Collins to one year - all for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
The women claimed to have found the Will while cleaning the home of the deceased man, Mr James Wilmot. The faked Will named Karen O'Brien and Gemma Gauci as executors and beneficiaries, and Leanne Collins as another beneficiary. The late Mr Wilmot's estate was worth an estimated £320,000.
Recently the case of Joy Williams made the news headlines. The 69-year-old grandmother lived with dentist Norman Martin for 18 years after he split with his wife, Maureen. But
The couple owned their property as ‘tenants in common’, a form of ownership which does not allow one party to inherit from the other. So when he died, the wife, not
Recent years have seen an rise in divorces among the older generation. In a trend that has been coined as 'silver splitting', more and more people over 60 are deciding to separate, moving in contrast with the statistics of other age groups, which have all seen a fall in the number of separations. According to the Office for National Statistics, 2011 saw the number of male divorcees over 60 shoot up by 75% compared to two decades earlier.
As for the reasons why so many of this age group are deciding to divorce, sometimes after long marriages of two decades or more, much speculation has occurred.
Increased life expectancy means that some people look to reinvent themselves as they move into their later years, which, it has been argued, may involve changing the person with whom they spend time with. Some lawyers have blamed empty-nest syndrome, that the couples no longer see a reason to stay together when their children become adults and leave home, while others believe that most of those who are splitting up are doing so simply because, once they have their sizeable pension supporting them, they can now afford it.
But whatever the reason, spouses leaving each other at a later age – when it is more likely that their children will now be young adults – has led to repercussions in other areas of law, particularly inheritance disputes.
The problem is that since the couple have been together for many years, it may have long been assumed that their estate will be divided among their children. But if one or both of them then go on to remarry and their respective spouses have families of their own, all of a sudden there are multiple other potential beneficiaries thrown into the mix, completely upsetting any sense of balance and, from the original family's point of view, fairness.
Second marriages, and the blended families they create, are one of the most common sources of Will disputes. A Will may have been made by a parent while still in a first marriage and this may remain unchanged when embarking on a subsequent union. The excluded second husband or wife and their children will no doubt contest the orders of the Will if they feel them to be outdated and therefore no longer reflective of the testator's true feelings when they died. But this could be very hard to prove.
On the other hand, an older person in a happy second marriage may amend their Will to include their new family, diminishing how much is left to their first family. Of course, the circumstances of each case will vary based on each blended family's situation (no one family history is the same as another, with differing levels of estrangement between parents and their children making inheritance a sometimes thorny issue), and it is possible for stepchildren to be left more of the estate than the testator's biological children. This may understandably lead to many hurt feelings and bitterness – even a sense of abandonment – and leave some family members disputing what they see as a gross injustice.
Such scenarios can lead to a major clash of the deceased's two families, which is becoming an increasingly common situation seen by lawyers in Will disputes.
If you are currently in the process of making your Will and wish to avoid causing any future battles between your loved ones, there are things you can do to mitigate a potential inheritance brawl. It is advisable to leave a letter with your Will to explain why you have decided to divide up your estate in the way you have. If anyone has been excluded or left less than they may be expecting, it's best to give a good reason for this in the letter. The same is true if you have left a large sum to a charity. Clearly spelling out the reasoning behind your decision will mean that there is less of a chance for the disappointed beneficiary to feel the need to fight against your wishes and greater likelihood that a court will uphold your wishes.
Making a Will is hardly a simple task at the best of times, and having multiple spouses and acting as a parent to many children throughout your life will only make it that much more harder. This is why it's a good idea to enlist the help of a lawyer experienced in Wills and probate to help make the process as straightforward as possible.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with an adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.