Writing a will is a job that not many people relish. But, once it’s done, it’s done. Right? Not necessarily. According to studies, the average useful lifespan of a will is around eight years. What does that mean? It means that, in many cases, within eight years of you writing your will something will have happened to cause you to need to change it. It won’t be the case with everyone, and a large number of people really can simply write their will and then forget all about it (apart from letting loved ones know where it’s kept, of course). However, wills do sometimes need to be updated, and if they aren’t then there can be problems when it comes to probate and executing the will.
When should you update your will?
If something major happens in your life, then think how that will impact your will. Marriage is one of these major life events, as is divorce. If either of these things occur after you have initially written your will, then you will most likely need to update it to include or remove people from it.
Children are another reason to update your will. It is likely that you will want them to inherit some or all of your estate, so they need to be mentioned in your will. Guardians are also an important aspect to include if your children are under 18. And if they turn 18 after you have written the will then the guardians should be removed as they will not be required.
The death of anyone who is mentioned in your will will also mean that it needs updating, and the same is true if you fall out with anyone who was originally meant to inherit. If you change your mind, change your will, otherwise the people you don’t want to inherit will do so anyway.
A recent survey carried out by the Cavell Nurses’ Trust showed that over two thirds of nursing staff don’t have a will. The charity supports nurses who are in financial difficulties or who are going through personal hardships, and the organisers of the survey were shocked to find that such a high number of nurses had not yet – or didn’t intend to – write their will.
Within the general population of the UK, the number of those who don’t have a will is at 53 percent compared to 64 percent of nurses.
The Cavell Nurses’ Trust intends to raise awareness of this facts through information in May, which is Make A Will month. The charity’s chair, Simon Knighton, said that he understood how busy a nurse’s life can be, and how working around the very ill, and seeing death on a regular basis, can put people off from wanting to think about such things when they finally do have some time off. However, he also understands that without a will it is the family left behind who will suffer, and so they are extremely important.
Some will writing businesses offer a discount for those in nursing, and it is always worth checking out beforehand.
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’.
People love to collect things. It seems to be a part of human nature, and many of us love to have a small collection of interesting objects. It could be anything from stamps to postcards to action figures… Whatever catches your eye really. But for most of us, our collections are little more than something to do. Something of interest. And if we do decide to include them in our will, it is not usually for the beneficiaries to gain any monetary value from them.
But this is not always the case.
Bob Postal collected toy soldiers. His collection spanned 30 years, and he had more than 10,000 when he died in September 2015.
He left the collection to his wife, Carole, who, although fond of the items because they had been Bob’s, and because they had always been a part of their life together, did not know what to do with them. It is likely that she would simply have left them in their boxes and cabinets if a friend had not phoned her up to tell her about a news progamme she had just seen.
The programme had been called ‘Strange Inheritance’, and it was all about a man who left a collection of toy soldiers, much like Bob Postal’s, to his family. The family wanted to sell them which, as it turned out, would be a good idea because they were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Carole Postal wrote to the programme herself to tell them about her collection, and she was featured on an episode entitled ‘Toy Soldier Story 2’. She told viewers that when she and Bob had first got married he had insisted that they buy an apartment with two bedrooms rather than the one they needed. When Carole asked why, Bob told her about his toy soldier collection. Carole said she never minded as long as ‘the guys’ (as Bob called them) remained in the soldier room.
Postal’s collection has been valued at over $300,000, and experts say it is one of the biggest collections in the world. But Carole does not want to sell them, and has placed half of the collection in the New York Historical Society. The other half is in a children’s museum in Rochester, New York.
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 some states in America (Alaska, Ohio, Arkansas, and North Dakota) it is possible to request ‘living probate’ to be carried out. It isn’t something that many people think about doing, and it isn’t absolutely necessary in most cases, but when it is done it ensures that the will is valid and correct before the testator dies.
The testator will be able to prove that they are in sound mind and body, and wrote the will by themselves, without any outside influences. This is useful if they believe there might be those who would choose to challenge the will after they die. By proving that the will was written exactly as the testator wanted it to be, there is then little chance that any kind of challenge can be made.
This is, however, an expensive option, and one that is not needed in the majority of cases. If there is a chance that someone will contest the will, and if doing so would create a lot of problems for many people, or hold time sensitive funds up for too long, then it could be something that some people would consider doing. And it’s not just about money either – contesting or challenging a will can cause huge family feuds and upsets. It could be that the testator wishes to avoid anything like that, and so organises a pre-death (or antemortem) probate review.
If you were to go down this route and then change your mind regarding who should benefit after you die, it is possible to change your will, or revoke it entirely. However, there will be a validated version on file, and therefore you must go to court in order to have that will destroyed to avoid any confusion. And, if you wish to go through the antemortem probate procedure for your second or subsequent wills, you would need to pay.
An executor is always expected to act reasonably when it comes to dealing with someone’s will and estate. They must act in the best interests of the estate, and the beneficiaries named in the will. This involves a number of things including getting the best possible price for any property or assets that are sold. It also means that they should ensure that the death is registered correctly. If this is not done, there could be serious implications that affect many people, and their inheritances.
The estate must be calculated correctly as well. This is to make sure that, if any inheritance tax is due, it is paid on time, and at the correct figure. This needs to be done before any of the money and assets are distributed.
The death should also be ‘advertised’, for example it could be announced in a national newspaper. This is so that anyone who is not mentioned in the will but who is owed money by the estate can contact the executor to arrange for payment. These debts must be paid off before any beneficiaries can inherit. If this is not done, and someone makes a claim after the money has been distributed, the executor may be liable for the debt.
If someone disputes the will (ie, if they question whether the will is valid, or if they have evidence that there is a newer will, for example) then there could be further claims. Being executor is an important job with huge responsibility, and it is always worth getting independent legal advice if you take the job on, to prepare you.
It has long been thought that the final wishes of Alexander The Great of Greece have been lost to the mists of time. However, a London based expert on Alexander, David Grant, has allegedly discovered them – and they were hiding in plain sight for the last 2,000 years.
Not only does the will set out exactly what Alexander wanted to happen to his worldly possessions and his burial wishes, but it is also said to lay out future plans, specifically for what needed to happen in the Greek-Persian empire that he was building. By the age of 30, Alexander the Great (or Alexander III of Macedon as he was known at the time) had created one of the largest empires in the world. He was the stuff of legend, only his exploits were absolutely true.
It took Mr Grant a decade to finally find the will after a trail of clues that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood movie, was followed. For many years, the final resting place of the will was dismissed as a story, but David Grant refused to believe that, and decided to test his theory. It turns out he was right.
A book entitled Alexander Romance was written in the 100 years after he died. Legend had always suggested that the will would be found at the end of this book, but all that had been discovered there was a pamphlet that had nothing to do with Alexander.
Or did it?
After a thorough investigation by Mr Grant, it turns out that this is exactly where the will had been all along! More about this remarkable story can be read in David Grant’s book, In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great.
The witnesses to a will are absolutely essential. Without them, the will is not valid, even if it is signed by the testator and correctly and completely filled in. Witnesses have been required to make a will valid since the government in the UK passed the Wills Act in 1837. It states that there must be two independent witnesses when a person signs their will. These witnesses must actually have seen the signature take place, and cannot sign after the fact. Their signature is proof that they have seen it happen.
There are certain rules that must be followed in order to ensure that the witnesses are suitable, and that they can make the will valid. Firstly, witnesses must be over 18 years old as only adult witnesses are allowed. Next, the witnesses cannot be members of your own family, and neither can they be beneficiaries in the will, in any way (including being married to a beneficiary). Other than that, you can choose anyone you want to witness your will for you. You could choose friends or work colleagues, people you know from a class, or anyone else.
By signing your will as a witness, the people you choose are not committing themselves to anything – it is not like signing a contract. The only thing the signature does is show the Probate Court that the will is valid.
For more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
For many people, the items that are listed within a will are tangible. They are things like property, jewellery, money and so on. However, for a smaller set of people there will be many more intangible things that should be mentioned. These includes anything that has been written, produced, or created. This comes under the term ‘intellectual property’. It could be a song, the name of a brand, a design of a logo, a novel, and much more.
It might be that the item is actually of great value, but it mustn’t be forgotten that there are other layers of complications across these things that include patents, copyright, trademarks and similar. This can often be where the true value of a product lies, and it is important to understand what it being left, even if it may not look like anything at all.
Remember that copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the person who created the work. After this time, the creation – song, novel etc – enters the public domain and can be shared and used however anyone wants. It is possible to bequeath the right to benefit from copyright. Alternatively, the item can be left to a gallery or museum, or to a person.
Patents last for up to 20 years after it is first filed. A patent is seen as personal property, and therefore it can certainly be bequeathed to someone. If you do hold a patent to something then you should include it in your will and write down what you want to happen to it. If it is to be left to someone then the patent office will require a copy of the death certificate and letters of administration so that the ownership can be updated.
What do you own that you didn’t realise could be bequeathed? Do you need to update your will after realising you have intellectual property? Please get in touch.