I Will if you Will

by George on June 14, 2012

Last Will & Testament

Wills seem to be in the news again or at least 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, so there is a raft of rules the government has made up over the years for people who have not. It would be chaos otherwise. Needless to say, these rules may not suit everybody and there are always horror stories like

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 on a pipe in an office!). Mavis his wife, did some clerical work. They lived in a modest but well maintained semi-detached in the suburbs of South West London. The company of which David was secretary was now a household name international public company. He was getting paid to match. He was also entitled to significant share options. He was in his mid fifties. He and Mavis had married relatively late in life – his pipe smoking went with the confirmed bachelor image. They had no children. He had an aged mother who has already in a nursing home and a married sister with two daughters at university. Mavis had no family.


One evening David was having his normal postprandial bath, Mavis went into see him – he was dead. He had died intestate. The semi-detached house had been David’s before the marriage. It was still in his name. It was valued at £450,000 and on intestacy, this (together with his personal chattels) equated to the entitlement that Mavis had as his surviving spouse.


The remainder of his estate, which was the order of the sum of £1,000,000, passed as to one half to Mavis on a life interest only-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). As to the other half of the excess over the initial £450,000 – that passed to David’s mother outright.


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. It is rare in my experience for families to ‘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.


Tony Millson – Word Count – 460


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