Why is it important to have a valid Will?
Posted on 3rd January 2020
As your local solicitors for Wills, we’re often asked what kind of reasons a person would have for making a Will.
Well, if we’re being honest, you don’t need a reason! There’s no major life event that should trigger your decision to make a Will. Everyone, no matter if you’re 18 or 80, should consider making a Will.
You might think: ‘well, I don’t own a house so it doesn’t matter’. That’s not necessarily the case. You could make a Will at the age of 18, which remains valid and reflects your wishes for how your estate should pass throughout your lifetime, no matter how your financial circumstances change. This way, even if you don’t own property when you make your Will, any future property that you gain would still be covered.
Our team of local solicitors for Wills would point out, however, that if your circumstances change drastically, for example all of your beneficiaries predecease you, or your business takes-off and you become a multi-millionaire, it’s definitely worth having a chat to our Wills team to find out if you need to make a new Will.
Another common misconception is that you’re too young to have a Will. Again, this is not always the case. You may have inherited property from a loved one, or you may have managed to save a lot of money; as long as you’re over the age of 18, you can make a Will. Again, you might not think it’s necessary, but it’s important to remember that if you don’t make a Will, your estate will pass as per the rules of intestacy, which you can read about, here.
Once recent case highlights the importance of making sure that you have a Will in place.
John and Ann Scarle, aged 79 and 69 respectively, sadly died from hypothermia at their home in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex in October 2016. They left an estate worth around £300,000.00, including their property.
Neither of them was believed to have left a Will and, due to the time that passed between their deaths and their bodies being found, the authorities have had great difficulty in establishing who died first.
Due to the fact that they both had a daughter from a previous relationship, it became pivotal to the case the timing of their deaths. If Mr Scarle died first, his wife is classed as having inherited his share of the estate, and therefore it would pass to her daughter, Deborah Cutler. However, if Mrs Scarle died first, the estate would be deemed as having passed to Mr Scarle, and therefore to his daughter, Anne Winter. Under the rules of intestacy, children do not inherit from their step-parent.
The case was heard in mid-2019, with the High Court relying on a near century-old law to reach a final decision: The “Commorientes Rule” is contained in Section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, and it refers to cases where there are “simultaneous deaths”, stating that it if cannot be determined who dies first, the younger of the two people is presumed to have outlived the elder.
In this case, being ten years younger, Mrs Scarle was deemed to have survived Mr Scarle, and therefore Mrs Cutler has inherited the whole of the estate. Mrs Winter has also been ordered to pay Mrs Cutler’s costs, meaning that, including her own, she will have to pay at least £150,000.00 for the dispute, from which she has walked away with nothing.
The “Commorientes Rule” is infrequently used now-a-days, as medical advances make it easier to determine who died first. However, some previous uses of the rule include:
1963 – a couple drowned at sea, both leaving their estate to each other. As the bodies were never found, it was impossible to determine who had died first, so the older of the two, the husband, was presumed to have died first. His estate therefore passed to his wife, which passed to her niece under her Will.
1940 – During the Second World War, a high-explosive bomb landed on a house in Chelsea, killing four people taking shelter there. Two of the deceased left Wills leaving bequests which would only take effect if their beneficiaries, also amongst the deceased, survived them. It was held by the House of Lords that in the absence of evidence that the deceased had survived the others, under section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, the younger had survived the estate, so all property passed to the estate of the youngest of the four.
It may seem like these are extreme circumstances, however it’s important to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you.
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