I Will if you Will

by George on 23 April 2012

Last Will & Testament

Wills seem to be in the news again or at least twice on BBC Radio 4 this morning. Curiously, writing wills is regulated in Scotland but not south of the border. Most people do not get round to writing one including quite a few solicitors I have met, so there is a raft of rules the government has made up over the years so money and chattels can be dealt with when someone passes on. It would be chaos otherwise. Needless to say, these rules may not suit everybody and there are always horror stories like my earlier Will You, Won’t You?

But here is another will story from Tony Millson, at Royds solicitors.

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David was a very understated guy, people just knew him as the quietly efficient company secretary always puffing on his pipe (in the days when one could puff away on a pipe in an office!). Mavis his wife, did some clerical work and they lived in a modest but well maintained semi-detached in the suburbs of South West London.

The company where David was secretary was now a household name – an international public company and he was getting paid to match with some significant share options. He and Mavis had married relatively late in life – his pipe smoking went with the confirmed bachelor image and he was now in his mid-fifties. They had no children, but he had the responsibility of his aged mother in a nursing home. David had a married sister with two daughters at university while Mavis had no family.

One of David’s habits was a postprandial bath, but one evening when Mavis went into see him – he was dead – and he had not made a will. The semi-detached house had been David’s before the marriage and was still in his name. Conveniently for Inheritance Tax, it was valued at £450,000 and on intestacy, this house (together with his personal chattels) amounted to the entitlement that Mavis had as his surviving spouse.

The remainder of his estate worth about £1,000,000, passed: one half to Mavis on a life interest only basis - after her death the capital of that half passed to David’s mother (if she was still alive or, if not, to David’s sister). The other half of the excess over the initial £450,000 passed to David’s mother outright.

Doing the Right Thing?

By the time of David’s death, David’s mother dementia had reached such a stage that she did not understand that David had died – possibly happily. A few months later she herself was dead. It being a family tradition she also had not made a Will. The whole of her estate, including the half a million or so pounds she was about inherit from David’s estate passed to David’s sister. David’s sister was embarrassed about this all and believed that morally the money was Mavis’s. Accordingly, because the deaths had taken place in fairly swift order, she was able to enter into a Deed of Variation relating to Mavis of her mother’s half share of David’s estate to the effect that that passed back to Mavis – incidentally it also saved something like £70,000 in Inheritance Tax.

It is not entirely clear what the moral of this tale is. In my experience, families rarely ‘do the right thing’ when money is involved. David’s sister certainly did the right thing. Mavis has done her best, particularly for David’s nieces, ever since.

However, this issue that was left to chance could easily have been dealt with by David having made a proper Will.

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In the same vein, if you have any old pension policies you might wish to check that your beneficiary details are up to date.

 

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