Sometimes, a will will need to be destroyed. They are such important documents, and can make such a difference to someone’s life and legacy, that if you decide to amend or completely change yours for any reason, then ideally the original version (and all other copies, come to that) should be destroyed. It has to literally be erased from the world, just in case it causes any confusion or upset later down the line.
However, destroying your will is not simply a case of ripping it up and forgetting about it. If you want to destroy a will, you need to do so in such a way that it is obvious you meant to do it. There has to be intention. A scorch mark or a few small rips is not going to make the will invalid, whereas burning the thing entirely, or ripping it into tiny pieces will. And this is also the reason – apart from confusion – that any copies should also be destroyed. If copies remain after the original has been destroyed, it could look as though the destruction was accidental.
If you want to destroy your will but a physical disability (for example) is preventing you from doing so, you will need to find someone else to destroy it on your behalf. However, this must be done in your presence.
Of course, accidents happen, and sometimes wills are destroyed by mistake. In this situation, just because the piece of paper that the will is written on is gone, that doesn’t mean that the intention behind what it used to say has gone with it. It is most likely that you will still want to leave the same items to the same people. You wishes will not have changed. In this case, it is best just to make a new will. It will be identical to the old one, and this is where having copies will be extremely useful!
Although in some states in the USA, and in other countries over the world, a verbal will is valid, in the UK it is not – one of the main requirements for a will here is that it must be written down. But what about changes to a will after the original has been made? Can they be verbal?
Firstly, it is important to keep your will up to date – circumstances will change, after all, and decisions that have once been made may need to be amended. Your will should always be as up to date as possible. If major changes need to be made then a brand new will may have to be made, but if the change is only a small one then it might be possible to simply add a codicil. It is best to speak to your solicitor about this to ensure that you make the right choice.
But what about verbal alterations?
If we look at the law, then technically a verbal alteration to a will is legal. However, in reality these are almost impossible to enforce. There must be at least one witness who has nothing to gain by the will, but even then it should be expected that the change will be questioned intensely, as perhaps it should be. After all, memories are unreliable, and if the witness isn’t completely sure of what they heard, there could easily be a challenge made. Even if they are sure, others might still want to launch a challenge!
For ultimate peace of mind, making written alterations to a will is the best things to do if at all possible. This will ensure that your wishes are carried out exactly as you want them to be, and that no one will be able to challenge your requests and bequests.
The answer to the question about whether or not you would still owe money on your mortgage if you were to die is a personal one, but one that should be considered. If the answer is that your mortgage isn’t just about to be paid off, then you may have to assume that there will be money left to pay – because, as uncomfortable as it may be to think about, anyone could die at any time. And a mortgage is most likely the biggest debt you’ll ever have – amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds. It can feel quite overwhelming when you think about it.
So what would happen to your outstanding mortgage if you were to die before it was paid in full?
The answer lies firstly in whether it is a joint or single mortgage. If it is a joint mortgage, then whoever is named along with the deceased on the deeds and mortgage details is the person who will be responsible for paying the balance of the mortgage. They won’t have to do this all at once (unless they choose to), but instead can take over the monthly repayments and continue to pay the mortgage as usual. Of course, if that person has no income, or cannot make the repayments on a single income now that their partner or spouse has died, it can prove problematic. This is why having adequate life insurance which would cover the balance of your mortgage is so important.
If the mortgage was only in the name of the deceased, then the terms will most likely say that the balance must be repaid upon that person’s death. Most estates aren’t rich enough to cover that mortgage repayment, and this is why the house will, in this situation, need to be sold. Any profit made from the house sale can be put back into the deceased’s estate. If there is a shortfall most mortgage lenders will close down the account with whatever can be made from the house – although this is not always the case and should be checked out before assumptions are made.
At the beginning of the millennium in the year 2000, around 47 percent of elderly people had written a living will. That’s a large number by anyone’s standards (particularly when compared to the general population who have written wills), but just 10 years later, that fairly healthy (in relative terms) figure had rocketed to over 70 percent. What had caused the sudden need for the elderly to write living wills?
There are a number of different suggestions.
In a living will the testator’s wishes regarding their medical treatment can be noted and referred to in the event that they are unable to speak for themselves for any reason. It is the best way to ensure that, should the worst happen, you are taken care of as you want to be. If the will writer were to suffer an illness or accident that leaves them in a permanently unconscious or vegetative state, they can choose what happens to them, and whether any ‘heroic measures’ are used to help them.
One reason that is suggested for the sudden and large rise in living wills being made is that the majority of people would rather end their lives in a hospice or at home than in a hospital – palliative care is the preferred option to medical intervention according to recent surveys. If a life is going to end, comfort and dignity are what is required, not lots of invasive procedures and medication. Having a living will means that you are more likely to get exactly what you want rather than what the hospital thinks should happen.
An upside of this is that society is becoming more and more open to discussing death and dying with friends and family, making it less of a taboo subject. Hopefully the advantage of this happening is that younger people will begin to make their wills earlier, which will mean that probate disputes and dying intestate happen less and less.
The High Court recently heard a case regarding a man’s will. Neighbours who had been expecting to inherit his house – he had told them as much – found that the man’s will had changed, and this prompted them to take the matter to court because they were convinced that he had been bullied into making a new will.
Robert Warke died in 2014, and instead of leaving his property to his neighbours William and Maureen Watton, Mr Warke’s nephew, Hugh Crawford, was the beneficiary. But the neighbours alleged that the nephew had told Mr Warke that unless he left him the house, he would have his dog put to sleep when he died (rather than look after it, presumably).
Not only did Mr Crawford inherit the house, but also all of the contents and the dog in question. However, the will – which was drawn up just a week before Robert Warke died – did include a £10,000 bequest to Mr and Mrs Watton.
But there was a previous will, dated March 2013, which left the property and dogs to the Wattons. And this is what prompted the neighbours to take the matter further. They claimed that Mr Warke was coerced into making a new will under duress due to the bullying nature of his nephew. They also suggest that Mr Warke did not have the mental capacity to make these changes legally.
Since the new will was executed while the Wattons were on holiday, they are convinced that something untoward went on.
The judge, however, could find no evidence of any wrong-doing. And the alleged threat to put the dogs down could not be substantiated. There were no documents to support the claims, and the judge determined that this was, most likely, a case of previous beneficiaries becoming upset that they were no longer part of the deceased’s will.
Making a will is an important thing to do. Once it’s finished, you can put it away safely and forget about it – you can, in other words, get on with the important business of living, with the peace of mind that your family and loved ones (and your possessions, money, and property) will be looked after when you die.
But there is more than one type of will, and it is essential that you choose the right one when it comes to writing yours. All wills do the same thing; they all set out in writing what you want to happen to your assets, and who you would like to deal with them. However, that doesn’t mean that you can simply pick any type of will and be done with it. They all have slightly different meanings and consequences.
The single will is the one that most people are familiar with. It is the list of instructions from one person regarding their estate. Not only is it the most widely used type of will, but it is also the simplest. There is another, similar will, however, that you may want to consider instead of the single will. This is the mirror will, and is useful for couples. The mirror will is for couples (either married, in a civil partnership, or unmarried) who have the same ideas of what they want to happen to their estate. It means that the two wills can mirror one another, and it is often cheaper to do this than to write two single wills.
Next is the property trust will. This is for those who want to protect the value of their property. This kind of will keeps the property safe for loved ones further down the line. It won’t be able to be sold to cover care fees for the surviving partner, for example. Another type of will that protects property is the flexible interest trust will. However, these wills also protect the testator’s savings and investments. The wills are flexible (as the name suggests) which means that some beneficiaries are able to receive their inheritance straight away, and others can have their put into a trust for a later date. This is a good choice of will to use when there are two (or more) families (ie there has been an additional marriage which has produced children).
Discretionary trust wills mean that specially chosen trustees will manage the estate and portion out the inheritance as they see fit. Because people’s circumstances change, this kind of will means that those who need the inheritance the most at the time of the testator’s death will receive it. The downside of this kind of will is that someone else will be making the decisions on your behalf, and they may not choose as you would have liked.
There is also a type of will called the living will. This is a different kind of will entirely, mainly due to the fact that in order for it to come into effect, the testator must still be alive. It is used to determine exactly what kinds of medical treatment can and should be used in the event of a life changing illness or accident. It is a way of making a decision when the testator can no longer speak for themselves (perhaps due to a coma, for example).
And these are just the most common types of will – others include the unsolemn will and the notarial will as well as many more.
When it comes to challenging a will, there are a number of different ways to go about it. One of those ways is to claim that the testator had a lack of capacity when making the will – that is, they did not have the mental capacity to legally write a will. This kind of challenge is actually on the rise, and this could be because dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is also increasing. Due to this, many family members find that they are not sure whether their loved one had the mental capacity to write the will or not.
But a lack of capacity isn’t just about whether or not someone had dementia. It can also be caused by head injuries, substance abuse, mental health disorders, and other medical conditions.
Although it is difficult to check for capacity because, due to its very nature, a will will usually only be challenged after the testator has died, there are legal ways to test this. The first is that the testator had to have understood what they were doing when making a will. The second is that they must understand exactly what it is they are giving away – an inventory will help if there is one, as it will show that the testator was fully aware of all the items that they wanted others to inherit. Finally, the testator must have been able to understand who they are giving these things to. If there is evidence in the will that shows understand of who is receiving what, then they will also help. An example of this is if close relatives receive more than distant acquaintances, for example.
Equally, the testator must not be suffering from any kind of mental disorder which would mean he or she would dispose of their assets any differently to if they were not suffering from that disorder.
Unless there is something truly odd in the will, the court will presume that the testator had the capacity to write it. However, if any doubt is raised, the burden of proof falls to those challenging the will. In order to do this, the court will need to see evidence of any statements made by the testator about the will, any evidence that the witnesses can give, any evidence that the testator’s solicitor can give, how much the will represents the testator’s personality and wishes, previous wills, how the testator treated family and friends and vice versa, and evidence from a GP or psychiatrist.
However, there have been some interesting deathbed confessions made over the years. Here are some examples.
Christian Spurling died in 1994, and if you’re a fan of all things Loch Ness (and in particular its monster) you may well know his name. And if not him, then what about his stepfather, Marmaduke Wetherell? The background is that in 1934, the Daily Mail newspaper received a photograph from a man named Robert Kenneth Wilson. A doctor. The photograph was supposedly the Loch Ness Monster (and the picture is one you will certainly have seen; it is known as The Surgeon’s Photo). It caused uproar across the world. But in 1994, Christian Spurling confessed that this photograph was a fake, perpetrated by his stepfather. Spurling was a model-maker, and he created the pretend monster that Doctor Wilson took the shot of.
In 1922, hugely famous Hollywood actor and director William Desmond Taylor was shot and killed. It became a massive scandal and one of the great mysteries of the time since no one was ever caught for the crime. In 1964, a reclusive woman named Margaret Gibson became unwell and called upon her neighbour – not for help, but to confess to the murder. She never gave a reason for shooting Taylor.
The assassination of JFK is a crime that has been given a certain amount of mystery over the years. And that mystery was intensified when CIA agent E. Howard Hunt confessed to playing a part in the murder. None of the mainstream media took the story up – another conspiracy?
And finally, aliens. When Lieutenant Walter Haut died, he wanted to let the world know that aliens really did land at Area 51 in Nevada. At least, that’s what he said…
In the UK, around 46 percent of the population own at least one pet. That’s about 65 million different creatures living with us in our homes. But what would happen to your pet if you were to die unexpectedly (or even after an illness)?
Many people actually choose to leave money to their pets in their will. Sort of. Although a pet can’t technically inherit any money or property, there are ways to ensure that your estate can provide for them.
One way is to name someone in your will who will take care of your pet after you have died. This could be a friend or family member. It is important that you discuss your plans with the person you would like to take your pet in for you, just in case they are not happy with the responsibility. They might not like animals, they might have an allergy (or someone else in the household might), they might have pets already who wouldn’t get on with a new animal in the house. If the person you have chosen says that they would prefer it if you named someone else then that is exactly what you should do. This is the case even if you had your heart set on that particular person – there is no point in naming someone who will have to put your pet into rehoming centre in the long run.
As well as naming someone to care for your pet, you should also leave them money in order to do so. Think about the money you spend on pet food, vet’s bills, insurance, even bedding and toys… Leaving money to your pet’s guardian is the next best thing to leaving the money to your pet itself.
Finally, if there is no one who can look after your pet, or no one you would want to, and they will have to be taken to a shelter, why not leave money to the shelter itself? You can check that your pet will be re-homed instead of destroyed, make sure that they will be comfortable, and generally find the perfect shelter. Make sure the name of the place is written in your will.
Justin Bieber has made some fairly poor decisions in the past, and one might be forgiven for thinking that his latest one is bound to be just as bad. However, when it turns out that his most recent decision is to write a will, it could be that the Canadian youngster is actually growing up and becoming a tad more sensible. Even if he does go back to his wild ways, at least this one particular decision will still hold true. And the reason behind this sudden grown up attitude is, so the reports say, that Bieber was shocked by the passing of some of the greatest performers of our age, such as Prince and David Bowie.
Bieber’s estate is said to be worth around £180 million, and an estate of that size – or any size, come to that, but the larger the estate often the more difficult it is to distribute and work with if there is no will.
Justin Bieber hasn’t only written a will, but has also detailed what he wants to happen at his funeral. Again, this can be a good idea as it will help bereaved loved ones who may not feel up to making the important decisions required at this time. If everything is set out and decided in advance it can all happen more quickly and without fuss or upset. Bieber’s plans include a solar powered headstone which plays his music videos on a screen, as well as a life sized hologram of… himself.
No matter what we think of these requests, the fact that Justin Bieber has had the sense to write a will and to think about his own mortality should be applauded. More people should do it to save the problems that come with dying intestate. And hopefully, now that Justin Bieber has done this, perhaps more young people will realise that a good idea it is. At the moment less than 50 percent of the population has a will. Anything to promote the idea that it should be done is worth looking into.