You Can Benefit Whomever You Wish In Your Will – Whatever Your Motives

When making a will, you have the legal right to choose who should benefit and who should not – even if your motives are open to criticism. The High Court made that point in upholding the will of a woman who disinherited three of her children after they reported their abusive father to the police.

After the siblings accused their father in the 1990s, he admitted having indecently assaulted two of them and was given a suspended prison sentence. Their mother knew that there was some truth in the allegations against her husband but felt that they had been exaggerated. She was also angry that the siblings had made the allegations public when she believed that the matter had been settled.

Her reaction was to cut them out of her will, instead leaving her entire estate, worth about £157,000, to her other children. The terms of her will remained unchanged when she died in 2013, nine years after her husband.

In rejecting the siblings’ challenge to the will, the Court found that their mother was the dominant partner in the marriage and rejected arguments that her husband had subjected her to undue influence. She was not suffering from an insane delusion or the mistaken belief that her husband was entirely innocent.

Her view was that the siblings were the cause of her husband having to face serious and potentially life-changing criminal proceedings, albeit justified at least in part. She had the mental capacity to make a valid will and – although not every parent would have done the same and some people might criticise her motives – there was nothing irrational about her decision to disinherit the siblings.

Sick Pensioner Lacked Mental Capacity to Make a Valid Will

Those who delay making a professionally drafted will until they reach advanced old age are making a mistake for which their loved ones are likely to pay in the long run. In one case, a woman’s three children were left at loggerheads after she signed a new will bequeathing all that she had to just one of them.

Under an earlier will, the woman had divided her estate equally between her children. However, just over a year before she died, she made a new one, cutting two of them out. By then she was in poor health and aged 82. She had not engaged a solicitor to draft the will or advise her in respect of its contents.

After the disinherited children launched proceedings, their brother pointed out that he had lived with their mother and cared for her until her death. It was submitted that she had understandably wanted to reward him for his devotion and that there was nothing irrational about the will.

In overturning the will, however, a judge found that the woman had lacked the required mental capacity to execute it. Ten years before she signed it, she had suffered a stroke and been diagnosed with cerebro-vascular disease. She had later been recorded as suffering from Parkinson’s disease and a query had been raised as to whether she also had dementia.

The cumulative effect of medical evidence, the testimony of members of her family, the appearance of the will and the fact that no lawyer was involved in its preparation all weighed in favour of the disinherited children. The judge’s ruling meant that the earlier will automatically came into effect, entitling each child to an equal share of their mother’s estate.

Making a Will? Don’t Forget Your Moral Responsibilities to Your Family!

When making your will, the law expects that you will not forget your responsibilities to those who have a legitimate call on your bounty. The point was made by one case in which a father left his entire £265,000 estate to a friend, cutting out his three children.

The man had severed links with his family following the end of his second marriage and had for many years had little or no contact with his children. His daughter’s efforts in adulthood to rekindle her relationship with him had borne fruit for about three years before they fell out and all communication between them lapsed.

After his death, she launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that he had been obliged to make reasonable provision for her in his will. Working for a retailer under a zero hours contract, she was in straitened financial circumstances and her lack of funds was standing in the way of her ambition to qualify as a veterinary nurse.

Her application was, however, resisted by the sole beneficiary of the will, a close friend of her father who had visited him regularly during his final months when he was dying from cancer. He claimed that the man had had no relationship with his daughter and pointed to a side letter attached to the will in which the man claimed not to have seen or heard from his children in 18 years. The friend claimed to have spent his entire inheritance on settling his debts and other expenses and that he faced his own financial difficulties.

In upholding the daughter’s claim, however, a judge found that it was a not a case of a prodigal child who only reappeared when there was the possibility of some money to be had. It was clear that she very much regretted the absence of a relationship with her father and that she had a moral claim on his bounty. She was awarded £30,000 from his estate. The friend had earlier agreed to pay £22,000 from his inheritance to one of the man’s sons who was unable to work due to health problems. His other son had made no claim on the estate.