Are wills worth the paper they’re written on?

Image

In February, a widow contested her late husband’s will, and won. 

When Karnail Singh died, he wanted his £1million+ estate to follow through the male line. His two sons inherited the estate, and nothing went to his widow or four daughters. His widow, Harbans Kaur contested the will, and Mr Justice Peel agreed that she should have a greater financial provision and should receive 50% of the estate.

Given that Harbans Kaur was living on state benefits of £12K, and the estate was estimated to be between £1.2 and £1.9 million. This decision seems to be a win for common sense, fairness, and gender equality. But it raises the question: what are wills for if they can be contested and over-turned? And if you want to put stipulations in your will, how can they be made to stand?

Let’s look at the finer details:

Mr Singh wrote his will in 2005, so his will was 16 years old. That’s probably the first point to make. Laws and precedents change, as may your wishes. Once you’ve written a will, review it regularly. It might be a case of simply getting it out of the drawer and re-reading it before putting it back. Or your life may have changed significantly since writing it: new family members, new circumstances, new financial arrangements to put in place. It’s a fairly easy matter to update a will with your solicitor. In this case, a solicitor may have flagged up the problem in Mr Singh’s will, and changes suggested and made.

Mr Justice Peel set out his thinking on this case, and cited section 3 of the Inheritance Act 1975, which ensures ‘reasonable provision’ for dependents. This was blatantly not the case here, as the widow was left with £12K per year. Furthermore, legislation to ensure that a widow cannot be worse off than if she’d been divorced, also came into play. In this case, Harbans Kaur was worse off than she would have been if her and her ex-husband had divorced.

For these reasons, Mr Justice Peel felt able to over-turn the will using case law and legal precedents. So, this brings us to the second point: use an expert solicitor to write your will – if well-written, it will be far less likely to be contested. A good solicitor will point out problems, and suggest solutions, based on their knowledge of differing pieces of law. They’ll understand the pitfalls of wills, and the benefits of protecting money for future generations by placing money in trust where necessary.

The passing of a family member is a difficult time. A well-written will ensures that the estate and assets are distributed as quickly as possible, as easily as possible and to the stipulations of the will-writer.

For more information about Wills, Trusts and Probate, please contact Jenny Barron on 01756 69286 or email jenny.barron@awbclaw.co.uk

6 April 2023

 

 

 

Share: