In 2004, a woman named Melita Jackson left £486,000 to animal charities. Her daughter, Heather Ilott, took the will to court in order to get a share of this estate – the will did not initially feature her at all. The pair had fallen out after Ms Ilott had eloped at the age of 17. She went on to have a long and happy relationship, and five children with her husband. But Ms Jackson could never forgive her daughter for what she had done.
Eventually, after many months, the Court of Appeal agreed that Ms Ilott should receive one third of the estate.
What does this mean in terms in will writing and inheritance? The experts are predicting that this could mean that people will not be able to disinherit their children unless they give a detailed reason why. Simply missing them out of the will without any additional documentation to explain why could mean that, if the children take the will to court, they will be given part of the estate. It will make it much easier for those who have been disinherited to challenge the wills of their parents.
The judge in this case ruled that Ms Ilott should have one third of the estate as her mother had not left her ‘reasonable provision’.
Writing a will is not everyone’s favourite activity, even though everyone seems to agree that it is important. One of the problems can be that people aren’t sure what to write in the will itself, or what to leave to whom. And if they have very few assets and possessions, it can feel like an even harder choice.
But simply by speaking to others about it, ideas can be formed and, in a group setting, more wills are written. Even if the conversation is about leaving assets or a certain amount of money to charity, for example – if one person says they are interested in doing so, others tend to follow suit. Or at least start thinking about it. Which is good news. In fact, research recently carried out at Bristol University found that one person stating that they were going to be leaving something to a charity in their will prompted a 40 percent increase in others around them choosing to do the same.
So should will writing become a class in school, or an extra credit module at university? Should all employers get their employees in a room and, as well as pension discussions, have everyone start talking about their wills? Would that work? Let us know what you think.
The government in the UK has been undeniably busy of late, with plenty of upheavals to deal with – but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t had the chance to take a new look at the many unclaimed assets and estates that occur each year when someone dies and there is no one to inherit the property, money, or possessions that belong to them.
A new body, the Independent Commission on Dormant Assets, has been set up and it is looking into where the ‘spare’ money should go, and how it should be apportioned.
The previous scheme was set up in 2008, and it was called the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008. It meant that if, after 15 years, a bank or building society account had not been accessed, the money in it could be sent to good causes. The new scheme is about to be realised, and it differs from the 2008 one in a number of ways.
It is suggested that there is over £1 billion worth of ‘lost’ accounts in the UK – that includes savings, stocks, share, and bonds as well as pensions. This is after the Dormant Assets Scheme has already released £750 million, and passed on to various charities across the UK.
The new scheme seeks to make the process easier and quicker, ensuring that the money is sent to charities within the shortest possible time frame. But some are concerned that this means rushing through the process, and not allowing enough time for people to claim their money.
So how do these accounts become lost? It could be that family members have no clue as to the account’s existence once their loved one dies (not having a will is a major cause of this), and it therefore sits untouched for years. It also happens when the post is not redirected after a move, when a name is changed after a marriage, and when banks and building societies merge, or close down altogether.
Many wills contain charitable donations – it can be a wonderful way to give back (literally) something to a cause that has helped you or a family member, or one that you feel particularly strongly about. It can be anything from a few pounds to a large percentage of your estate. The choice is yours.
Recently, a man named Peter Gibbons, did just that. He decided to leave money in his will to Ipswich Hospital since they had treated him for heart disease, and made the last few months of his life more comfortable. Mr Gibbons was a former second hand car dealer, and he left a massive £1.5 million to the hospital.
Friends of Mr Gibbons were not surprised when they heard what he had done – he had always had good things to say about Ipswich Hospital. He had been in and out of their care many times in the six years prior to his death at age 90, and he had never had a bad experience. What Mr Gibbons’ friends were surprised about was the amount of money he had left the hospital; none of them had any idea he was worth so much. They had always considered him ‘thrifty’, and although there were rumours about how much money he had, they had never seen any evidence of it.
A spokesperson for the hospital confirmed that the £1.5 million was the biggest donation they had ever received, and that it would go on to help many thousands of people who needed the hospital’s help. Four wards are now due to be renovated – including the children’s ward – and the rest of the money will go towards various smaller projects.
There is no doubting that charities do wonderful things. They raise money for those causes that would otherwise generally go without, they bring attention to problems across the world and closer to home, and they do it all – for the most part – through donations from the general public.
And therefore it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that a high number (around 46%) of people choose to leave a gift to charity in their wills. This is especially true if the charity has helped them or their family in some way, or when it is a cause that is very close to their hearts.
It is not as straightforward as it may seem, however, and there are certain issue and problems associated with leaving this kind of gift.
One issue comes with choosing a set amount of money to leave as a gift to charity. If, when you die, your estate is worth less than it might once have been – care home fees are a good example of how this can happen – then the set amount still stands. In some situations this can be the majority of the estate! Other beneficiaries could end up with much less than you intended as a result, and in some cases the estate may not even be able to cover the cost. A better way to include a charitable donation within your will is to use a percentage rather than a set amount. Even if the value of your estate goes down, the charity – as well as everyone else included – will still receive some money.
Another problem comes from the charities themselves. It is possible to check the probate service to ascertain whether you have been left any money, and charities do this a lot – they may then contact the family to discuss the matter, which of course can make a difficult and emotional time even worse. If you do not want something in your will to be made public then it is best to write a ‘letter of wishes’. This document is kept with the will but the details within it are kept private.
It is a good idea – as previously discussed – to talk about the contents of your will with your family. It can come as a shock to find out that some of their loved one’s estate is going to go to charity, and telling them beforehand, giving your reasons, will often soften the blow.
Charities disappear fairly regularly due to lack of funding, and this is especially true for the smaller ones. It is important to keep up with the news of your chosen charity so that, in the event that it ceases to exist, you can update your will. Otherwise it may be contested and will definitely lengthen probate.