Posted on 18th August 2008

Seek Legal Advice to Avoid Family Conflict

Natalie Walker, solicitor in Darlington law firm Latimer Hinks, is urging people to seek a professional legal review of their last will and testament to avoid lengthy family feuds and conflict.

An appeal by Doctor Christine Gill against her parents will is currently being heard by Leeds High Court. When her mother died in 2006, Doctor Gill was shocked to learn that she had been excluded from both of her parents wills; their entire legacy being gifted to the RSPCA. The estate, valued at 2.4 million, includes a farm house near Northallerton and 270 acres of surrounding land.

Natalie said: The Doctor Gill case is an extreme example but it does highlight how important it is to draw up a robust, legally binding will with the help of professional advice. People are entitled to leave their possessions to whomever they like and charity bequests have become increasingly popular over the last few years. However, it is important that people understand the implications of their decisions and make certain that their arrangements are clearly set down in a legally binding will to ensure that their wishes are carried out fully.

Every year, there are many examples of people failing to make adequate arrangements within their wills. One such example is of someone using an off-the-shelf DIY will kit who, not fully understanding the implications, asked the main beneficiary to counter sign the document as a witness. As you cannot receive a gift from a will that you have signed as an official witness, this person was barred from the legacy and did not inherit.

Further problems can arise when wills are poorly written and therefore cause confusion as to what has been left and to whom. However, perhaps the only thing worse than leaving a poorly written or void will is to die leaving no will at all. It is estimated that up to 60 percent of all Britons have not written a will and, unless they seek to rectify this, the laws of intestacy will be invoked upon their death.

Natalie said: If a person is married and dies without a will in place, their property would, in the majority of cases, automatically transfer to the surviving partner unless the value of the property in the deceased persons sole name was over the current Statutory legacy amount of 125,000. However, intestacy laws have not kept apace with social trends and an unmarried person would not be entitled to anything upon the death of their partner. The intestacy laws are an unreliable backstop to making a will and should not be looked upon as a reliable substitute.

Most of us have specific gifts we would like to make after our deaths, but unless a clear and valid will is prepared, there is no way of ensuring that our wishes will be carried out. The language and laws surrounding wills can confuse some people. If in doubt, you should always seek legal advice.

Doctor Gills hearing has been adjourned until November.