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    6 January 2021

    New year, new Will? A time to get your legal affairs in order.

    As we welcomed in 2021, and a renewed sense of resolve to continue good practices made in our New Year resolutions, we consider how many people use this opportunity to get their legal affairs in order and the consequences of not reviewing when major changes occur in your personal life.

    It is safe to say that 2020 was very challenging. It has been dubbed one of the worst years in modern history. Back at the start of the year, it would have been difficult to imagine what was to come. We had heated discussions around BREXIT, Australia experienced one of the worst and most devastating wildfire seasons, Prince Harry and Megan Markle stepped down as “senior royals”, the Covid 19 pandemic hit and shut down many parts of the world, a new American president was elected, and racial tensions over police brutality in the US reached breaking point which sparked protests all over the world. It has been a tough year. Can you imagine trying to explain 2020 to a time traveller from the past? It all seems so surreal. And now, in England, we face a third national lockdown.

    As we welcome in the New Year, many of us will be making New Year’s Resolutions, whether that be exercising more, saving money, eating healthier or something else.  Something that may not automatically spring to mind is getting your legal affairs in order.

    Making or updating a Will is arguably one of the most important things that you can do for yourself and for your family. It can provide you with peace of mind that that you have made your wishes clear and have provided for those after you are no longer here. Although making or updating a Will may seem a burdensome and costly exercise, it can save problems in the future. It was reported that the arrival of the Coronavirus in the UK prompted a 76% jump in the demand for Wills.

    What could happen if you do not make a Will or review an existing Will?

    If you die without a Will you are deemed to die intestate. This means that your estate will be distributed in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. These can be arbitrary and fundamentally, your estate may not go to who you would like.

    The following case studies highlight the importance of having an up-to-date Will.

    • Case Study 1 – Jeremy and Nancy, an unmarried couple with no children.

    Jeremy and Nancy are in a long-term relationship but are not married. They have been together for 15 years. They are both in their late 30’s. They do not have any children. They live together in a house owned in Nancy’s sole name. She inherited this from a relative prior to the relationship. Nancy has modest savings of £10,000.00. Jeremy does not have any substantial assets as he has invested in his long-term ambition of being a musician.

    Although the couple had talked about making Wills, they have never got around to it. Nancy said, “I’m young, nothing will happen to me”. Tragically, Nancy dies before her 40th birthday.

    Nancy has no family, apart from her brother, James.  Nancy was not particularly close to her brother.

    As Nancy did not make a Will, she would be deemed to die intestate and her estate would be distributed in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. Although Jeremy is Nancy’s long-term partner, the Intestacy Rules do not make provision for “cohabitees”. This means that James would inherit Nancy’s estate.

    Jeremy could potentially make a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, but any award would be limited to what is reasonable for his maintenance.

    • Case Study 2 – Mark and Sophie, a married couple with one child.

    Mark and Sophie are married. They have a son together, Ian. They jointly own a flat in London and a cottage in the countryside which are both mortgage free. Mark and Sophie are loan managers and have worked their way up the corporate ladder. They have managed to accrue savings of £100,000.00.

    They both understand the importance of making Wills and so these are prepared and executed. They decide to benefit each other. Mark knows that Sophie will do the right thing if anything were to happen to him. Unfortunately, Mark dies.  Under the terms of Mark’s Will, Sophie inherits his estate.

    Sophie moves on quickly with her life and meets Geoff. They decide to get married. Sophie is aware that a Will is revoked on marriage and so visits her solicitor to update her Will. She makes Geoff the sole beneficiary. Out of the blue, Sophie becomes unwell and dies. Geoff inherits her estate. Mark’s parents are made aware of the situation and are shocked that Mark and Sophies estate has quickly made its way to a new family leaving their son, Ian with nothing.

    • Case Study 3 – Simon and Molly, a married couple with a blended family.

    Simon and Molly are in their mid-20’s. It has been a whirlwind romance and they decide to get married. Simon has twins from a previous relationship. Molly suggested that they should both make Wills after they married but Simon said that he thought it was too burdensome and costly. They have modest assets. Simon owns an interest in a local pub. He has around £5,000.00 in savings from other various jobs. Molly has very little. They live in rented accommodation.

    The relationship breaks down after a couple of years and they decide to go their separate ways. Tragically and unexpectedly, Simon dies.

    Although Simon and Molly are separated, they never got round to applying for a divorce. This means at the time Simon died, Molly was still his wife.

    As Simon died without a Will, his estate will be distributed under the Intestacy Rules. All his personal possessions will pass to Molly, plus the first £270,000.00. If there is anything left, ½ will pass to Molly and the remaining half to the twins. Depending on the value of Simon’s estate when he dies, the twins may receive nothing!

    The twins could potentially make a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, but any award would be limited to what is reasonable for their maintenance.

    So, what can we learn from this?

    It is important to plan for the future although this may seem bleak. As they say, the only thing that is certain in life is death and taxes!

    The case studies highlight how important is it to make a Will and regularly review, especially after any life changing event such as divorce, marriage, re-marriage, or death. Making a Will and keeping it under review can seem like a burdensome and costly exercise but it can avoid problems in the future which can have a devastating effect on the family.

    When you are thinking about what resolutions you are going to make this year, it makes sense to add making or reviewing your Will to the list!

    For further information on the importance of making a Will, please see our dedicated webpage.

    If you would like to speak to a member of the team to discuss updating or amending your Will, please contact our dedicated Wills, Trusts and Probate team by calling 01379 652141 or by emailing probate@steeleslaw.co.uk

    If you feel you have been unfairly been left out of a loved ones Will or have not been provided for under the Intestacy Rules and would like to discuss your options, please contact our Contested Probate Solicitors by emailing info@steeleslaw.co.uk or calling 01503 598000.

    *The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.

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