There are many reasons why you may need to make changes to your will. Significant life events, such as marriage, births, deaths and divorces are amongst the most common triggers to amending a will’s contents. Another is a family feud or prolonged disagreement between close relatives.
Sadly, family fall outs can and do happen – sometimes to the extent of taking action to leave a person out of a will.
It is a commonly thought that you can disinherit a person in your will simply by not naming them as a beneficiary.
In fact, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, there are categories of individuals who may be eligible to make a claim to your estate when you die even if they are not named beneficiaries.
- A current spouse or civil partner
- A former spouse or civil partner
- An individual who was living in the same household in the manner of a spouse or civil partner in the two years immediately prior to the deceased’s death
- Any children, including illegitimate, legitimated and adopted children of any age
- Any person that was treated as a child of a marriage or civil partnership (i.e. step-children)
- Any person not included above who was maintained by the deceased immediately before prior to death
There may be a number of reasons to leave a close family member or any of the above categories of individual out of a will – not all of which may be the result of a fallout. For example, you may simply deem that an individual or dependant is already financially secure in their own right.
Regardless of the reason, it is important to consider it carefully at the time as you make your Will.
If choosing to disinherit an individual who falls into one of the categories as outlines by the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, it is advisable to consider producing a detailed witness statement to sit alongside your will. This should detail the reasons why individuals are not named in your will, and the discussions you have had with such individuals pertaining to your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.
In taking this step, it is possible for the witness statement to be used as evidence should a Court claim be issued after your death. The witness statement is effectively used as your defence; and in your absence, would explain to a Court that your decision was considered, thought through, but ultimately intentional.
Even if an Inheritance Act Claim is not raised, a witness statement can be a valuable resource to the executors of your will in explaining your decision to family members/relatives/dependants.
As with any legal document around legacy planning, it is important to review your will and witness statement at sensible intervals so it can be proven to be valid and up to date in the event of a dispute being raised after your death.
For more information or to discuss making a will, leaving a witness statement, or making a claim under the Inheritance Act, please contact Rebecca on 01457 761320 or email Rebecca@odonnellsolicitors.co.uk.
Rebecca O’Donnell is Head of Private Client at O’Donnell Solicitors.