The Importance of Making a Will

2nd January 2020 Will Disputes

There can often be reluctance amongst family members to discuss plans and wishes for what will happen after someone dies. This can result in a lack of attention and planning regarding what will happen to someone’s assets when they pass away and can sometimes lead to disputes following a person’s death. In some cases, matters can turn contentious and can result in legal fees being incurred that ultimately reduce the inheritance that anyone will receive from the Deceased’s estate.

Disputes could be avoided by ensuring that there is a well-drafted, professional Will in place which clearly sets out the wishes of the testator and takes account of issues that might become the subject of dispute after they die.

Despite this, it is common that many individuals pass away leaving no Will, which means that their assets are distributed in line with the Intestacy Rules. Whilst this does not always lead to disputes and may coincide with the Deceased’s wishes, there is a serious risk that this can result in a distribution of the Deceased’s estate that may not have been intended or foreseen by the Deceased and may not take account of all those who may have had an expectation of an inheritance.

A recently reported case where there was no will involved a wealthy banker who was divorced and subsequently began a relationship with a Ms Harrison-Morgan, which evolved into cohabitation and lasted over a number of years until his death in 2014. The Deceased had two children with Ms Harrison-Morgan and two children to a previous relationship.

Prior to the Deceased passing away, he had arranged for the property in which Ms Harrison-Morgan resided to be sold. Following his death, Ms Harrison-Morgan made an arrangement that half of the proceeds of this sale amounting to £2.2 million would go to her and the rest of the estate would be split between the four children of the Deceased in line with the Intestacy Rules. However, the Court of Appeal determined that the £2.2 million that had been paid to Ms Harrison-Morgan in fact fell within the Deceased’s estate on the basis that an express common intention constructive trust had been created prior to his death and all the monies from the sale of the property should be paid to the estate of the Deceased and distributed in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. Unfortunately, as Ms Harrison-Morgan was not married to the Deceased and she did not own any of his property on a joint basis, she had no entitlement to his estate under the Intestacy Rules and had to repay the £2.2 million to the Deceased estate.

This is an extreme example of how loved ones can be excluded and left without any entitlement to someone’s estate that they may otherwise have been entitled to if a Will had been made. Whilst Ms Harrison-Morgan argued that the Deceased would never have intended to leave her with no entitlement to his estate; in the absence of a valid Will that stated this, there was insufficient evidence to back up her assertion.

Making a will is a simple preventative step which can avoid a large amount of wasted time and money as well as distress caused to loved ones who can become embroiled in fighting over the estate of someone who has passed away. Should you find yourself involved in a dispute over someone’s estate, please contact our experienced team who can assist by guiding you through the process and try to seek a resolution that is appropriate for your circumstances.

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Alison Parry is a Partner located in Manchester in our Commercial Litigation, Will and Trust Disputes department

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