We all know what a will is, don’t we? Or do we? It may seem like an obvious thing, but when Macmillan Cancer Support carried out a survey and discovered that 98 percent of people couldn’t accurately describe what a will is actually for, it may be time to think again. Although most people understand that a will is about ensuring that your beneficiaries receive what you want them to receive, there are other factors, and this is what was missing from most explanations.
Those other factors include the fact that having a will means that you won’t die ‘intestate’, which makes things very difficult for your family members, and makes probate a much longer drawn out thing than it really should be. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that a will needs to be updated after a re-marriage, or a divorce. It is a little more complicated than some people imagine, but this should not mean that you shouldn’t write a will – if anything, it means that writing a will simplifies things after you have died.
Macmillan’s survey also said that around 70 percent of people like to plan ahead, but that only 40 percent of the UK’s adult population had actually written their will. This is most likely due to the fact that people still find talking about – or even thinking about – death a taboo, or a frightening prospect, and therefore they put it off. Unfortunately, when writing a will is so important, and when there are many companies and people who are happy to help in such an endeavour, not writing a will causes far more problems than writing one would ever do. A short time of feeling uncomfortable thinking about your own mortality is far better than leaving confusion and bad feeling for your family after you pass away.
The misunderstandings that come with the idea of will writing include thinking that you have to be over a certain age (40 is the one that most cite) before you can write one. This is borne out with evidence that shows that 80 percent of 18-34 year olds don’t have a will compared to just 32 percent of those over 55. Another confusion is the cost of will writing. It is often assumed that will writing is a very expensive process, when in reality the cost of usually a lot less than people think.
But the problem comes when people think wills are solely about money. And those who have very little in savings or no assets therefore don’t think that a will is relevant to them, or their families. This is not the case, however. Wills are about more than who gets what. They can also set out what the deceased would like to have happen after their death, and this is especially important if children are involved.
Although the figures are getting better, there is still a large proportion of the adult population who do not have a will – it’s around two thirds. And this can cause major problems when they die because their estate may not be given to the person they would have wanted it to be given to.
It can be stressful for those left behind, and it can cause financial issues too.
So why is it that only one third of people in the UK have wills?
The main reason, a new study by NS&I has discovered, is that it’s because no one likes to talk about death. It’s still a big taboo. And that taboo means that people simply aren’t comfortable when it comes to discussing their own demise, or other people’s, and especially when it is linked to money or inheritance.
As well as not writing a will, these adults don’t have any plans at all for when they die. That includes not having plans for looking after the relatives they leave behind – both elderly and children. This is how scared the UK is of death; even if it going to affect others negatively, people would rather not think about it at all.
Around 46 percent of adults in the UK are not happy about discussing their death with their loved ones, and a third say that they won’t discuss it with anyone at all. They would just prefer not to think about it. Or they think they are too young to consider writing a will. The problem is, death can come at any time for anyone, and having a will in place ‘just in case’ will stop any potential arguments after death.
In April 2016 the world lost a musical icon. Prince died unexpectedly in his home in Minnesota. The problems regarding his estate began immediately since Prince (whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson) had no will. This meant that his estate had to go through the intestacy rules, but Prince’s family is a spread out and complicated one, and so the entire process of portioning out the estate is still not complete.
The current problem stems from the fact that there are two lawyers who are attempting to represent Prince’s potential heirs, and the judge overseeing the case is refusing to appoint either one of them to the job. This is because there is disagreement between the remaining siblings as to who to use. The two lawyers – both very experienced in their field – effectively interviewed for the job of dealing with Prince’s estate recently, but the six siblings and half siblings of Prince are split over who to use. The judge has declared that if they cannot reach a consensus then he will work on a majority of four to two. But the issue is literally split down the middle.
Minnesota law means that Prince’s estate and assets should pass to his sister, Tyka Nelson, and his five half siblings equally because he had no children and his parents are dead. However, there have been a number of other claims from people who say that they are also half siblings of the singer, and until the claims are all looked at, the judge cannot – and will not – begin splitting the estate between the six who will definitely inherit something.
In UK law, you can leave whatever you want to whomever you want, assuming you own the asset in the first place. That means that if you want to leave money or property – or anything else – to your stepchildren, you are perfectly entitled to do so.
The problems start when there is no will. If there is no will then the estate will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy, and these laws are strict. There is a distinct list of people who will receive parts of the estate, and this list must be dealt with in order. The rules of intestacy do not, however, cover stepchildren, and this is important to bear in mind. Only a spouse, adopted child or blood relatives can inherit if there is no will.
And of course, even if you do have a will and you simply write that you want to leave everything to your children (or even siblings) this will not include stepchildren or stepbrothers and sisters. You will need to make a separate point for them.
Even if you have parental responsibility for a child, they still will not inherit unless they are your adopted or biological child. If they are stepchildren then the only way they will be able to inherit anything from your estate once you die is to write a will and ensure they are mentioned by name.
It is possible for a stepchild to challenge the rules of intestacy – or even a will. If they were financially dependent on the person who died, or if they had been treated like the person’s own child, they may have a claim to some of the estate. But this is a long-winded process and is expensive and distressing for everyone. It is easier by far to write a will that says what you want it to say.
Jamaica. At that time, there was more than one application for the grant of letters of administration submitted. The first was from someone claiming to be Ms Lyons’ niece, Audrene Kerr-Robinson. She was given the grant in February 2012. However, this was soon determined to be a mistake when it was discovered that Kerr-Robinson had no claim to the estate.
Although she was contacted by the Principal Probate Registry, there was no response.
The other applications, which had been unsuccessful, had been from Jonathan Kerr and George Lyons. They proceeded to challenge Ms Kerr-Robinson’s claims. They were both close relatives, but Kerr-Robinson, an accountant, was not – or so they said. So that they could stop the estate being broken up and distributed to the wrong people, the pair employed an estate administrator to ensure that everything was kept together while their claim was looked into.
Kerr-Robinson’s grant was revoked due to the initial error, and she was requested to pay £20,000 as well as some of the estate assets to the interim administrator.
In order to refute this claim, Ms Kerr-Robinson hired Blueprint Property Lawyers to appeal on her behalf. This cost almost £87,000 even though the company were not probate lawyers (and therefore should not have been involved in the case) which was taken from the estate.
Eventually, it was determined that that money would have to be returned. Unfortunately, Blueprint Property Lawyers had gone into insolvency, and this meant that Ms Kerr-Robinson was liable for the cost. She should, said the judge, not have used the estate that was in dispute to pay bills relating to it.
Heir hunting is essential when someone dies intestate (ie without a will), and there are no immediate relatives to inherit the deceased person’s estate. An heir hunter will then carry out an investigation in order to discover any distant relatives who would be able to inherit the estate. But what other reasons might an heir hunter be employed to find someone?
It could be due to health issues. Some diseases are known to be hereditary, and if someone dies from something particularly aggressive, and especially if it can be treated, then finding members of the extended family could actually save lives. And if the disease cannot be treated, it is worth letting people know this as well – so that they can decide about whether or not to have children and so on. Cancer is one such disease, as well as hereditary heart conditions and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Heir hunters can also be hired to find family members when there is no inheritance involved. This could be when people do go missing – or they have moved away and contact has been lost. It could also be used for finding biological families after an adoption. Although it is possible to do these things yourself, heir hunters have the tools and the expertise to do it much more quickly. And although you will necessarily need to pay them for their time, it could well end up costing less than if you were to try to do it yourself. Think of all the time you would need to put into the search, and how many websites or organisations you would need to sign up for – and potentially pay for – if you were to go it alone. Hiring a professional heir hunter will make things much easier.
Celebrities may have a completely different life to the ‘normal people’ who look up to them – they may have more money, go to more parties, win more awards… but when it comes to writing a will, they are just as forgetful as the rest of us. And yet, due to the huge fortunes that many of these well known people amass, they are in just as much need of writing a will as anyone else. Otherwise what will happen to the money, the property, the cars and jets and businesses?
It’s a lesson that Prince should have thought about. However, the 57 year old singer’s unexpected death on 21st April 2016 has revealed that the icon never actually made a will, despite his assets being worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The final figure is yet to be established as there are so many different revenue streams to tie up.
Due to the fact that Prince had no will, his estate has been found to be intestate. There are specific rules that need to be followed to work out who would inherit and how much, and because Prince was not married, had no surviving children, and his parents were both deceased, the bulk of the estate will most likely fall to his six siblings equally. However, since there was no will probate will take much longer and cost much more than it otherwise would have done.
Not only that, but there is no executor for the estate, and therefore Prince’s bank has been named as the ‘special administrator’ in order to try to straighten things out.
One of Prince's assets is his home and recording studio, Paisley Park.
And there is one more potential issue. A woman named Darcell Gresham Johnson has stepped forward to claim that she is another of Prince’s siblings. She says that she and the singer-songwriter had the same mother, and she is petitioning to receive a portion of Prince’s estate.
This declaration will add another layer of confusion to a messy estate and asset list, and will also add more time to the case as steps are taken to prove Johnson’s story.