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HCR Law Events

15 September 2023

Wills and the modern family

All too often, we hear of families undergoing difficult scenarios that are the result of outdated, or even non-existent, wills. These issues can take many different forms such as:

  1. A client whose dad remarried. Upon marrying again, the father was not aware that his previous will automatically became invalid. This subsequently resulted in his wishes – leaving his estate to his children – not being fulfilled on his death, with the estate instead passing to the step-mother, who then passed the father’s assets down to her own children when she later died.
  2. A client whose partner died without a will. As they were unmarried, the deceased’s belongings – and half of their house – passed to the partner’s parents, whom they did not get along with.
  3. A client’s brother who died during a divorce. As he did not change his will after the separation, and died before the divorce was concluded, his entire estate passed to his estranged wife, despite this being against his wishes.

What does a “typical” family look like in 2023?

If we think about the people around us – friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances – the chances are, we know people with a wide variety of personal circumstances. Married couples or civil partners (with or without children); single parents; single people without children but with large extended families; step-parents and step-children; unmarried couples with or without children; those living in multi-generational households; divorcees; people on their second, third or fourth marriage; people with caring responsibilities; the list goes on.

So, despite being recently updated, how can the intestacy rules possibly give the best outcome for you and your loved ones if you die? The rules do not take account of individual circumstances and do not provide any flexibility.

Regardless of your family situation, making a will is the best way to ensure that you decide for yourself what will happen on your death. A will is a legal document which sets out how your estate is to be divided, including gifts of any particular items, or cash legacies to any individuals or charities.

It also includes other important provisions – who is responsible for sorting it all out (your executors), your funeral wishes (we see an interesting variety of these!), who should look after your children (your guardians), and who will look after your money on behalf of any vulnerable beneficiaries (your trustees).

What is the solution?

As with the intestacy rules, there is no “one size fits all” with wills. Even if you think your circumstances are straightforward, it can be costly and stressful for those left behind if your wishes are not carefully and correctly recorded in a well-prepared, and up to date, will.

For others with more complex requirements – perhaps ensuring that a vulnerable loved one will continue to be looked after your death, or making sure you provide for both your second spouse and your children from first marriage, as in the first scenario above – getting proper advice from a fully-qualified and experienced legal professional is crucial.

As family set-ups become more complex and diverse, disputes about estates are also steadily rising. Resolving a family feud about an estate is both expensive and upsetting, and could be avoided by taking specialist advice before death. The Private Client team at HCR Hewitsons can help you to ensure that the legacy you leave behind is positive and that those you care most about are looked after in the best possible way.

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About the Author
Kerri Woodrow, Partner (TEP)

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