Today’s Wills and Probate highlighted a recent court case illustrating the importance of making a Will.

The High Court case concerned the heirs to the estates of a married couple who died within months of each other in 2019.

Clarke Willmott LLP analysed the case on the Todays Wills and Probate website, pointing out what happens if a deceased spouse leaves everything to their partner when that partner has already died.

Appointed sole executor and beneficiary

The couple, Margaret and Alan, had no children but both had prepared Wills, appointing the other as the sole executor and beneficiary of their estates. Margaret died first and her widowed husband visited his solicitor to make a new Will. However, he did not get the chance to execute it before dying of a heart attack three months after his wife had passed away.

Margaret’s brother and sister then claimed the couple made ‘deathbed’ gifts to them before they died. Judge Jarman ruled that those gifts did not meet the definition. To count as legally valid, a deathbed gift needs to meet three criteria:

  • the person making the gift must contemplate his or her impending death
  • the gift must be clearly conditional upon that person’s death actually taking place
  • the person making the gift should deliver “dominion” over the subject matter of the gift.

Laws of intestacy

Because Alan’s Will had not been updated, his estate was distributed according to the laws of intestacy because the Will did not allow for his wife dying first.

Carole Cummins from Clarke Willmott LLP said Wills needed to make the person’s wishes explicit. A well-written Will needed a number of ‘what if’ scenarios that take into consideration the possibility of the beneficiaries dying before, at the same time or shortly afterwards.

The case also highlighted the issue of making a Will in the first place, with some two-thirds of adults in the UK thought not to have one in place.

Finders International traces the beneficiaries to estates, property, and assets all over the world. The firm traces the heirs to estates where someone has died leaving their estate (or part of their estate) unclaimed, and beneficiaries of unclaimed assets such as dormant bank accounts, insurance policies or abandoned properties. If the original beneficiary to the asset has died, the benefit then passes to their next of kin.

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