Your Last Will and Testament – avoiding unnecessary drama

17th February 2020

I have been a fan of the Bafta-winning comedy drama Cold Feet since the first series which aired back in 1998, when I was at university.   The programme is now in its ninth series and in the latest episode Jenny and her sister Sheila clash over their late mother’s Will.  As a solicitor specialising in Wills, I watched the storyline unfold with great interest and thought that as a portrayal of real life the writers got it spot on.  So how can you avoid the same drama happening to your “Last Will and Testament”?

1 – Ensure that your Will is stored safely

In the episode Jenny and Sheila are sorting through their late mother’s things when Sheila finds an envelope containing their late mother’s Will.    Before opening it Jenny says “If she’s left everything to the cats home we are going to bury that in the garden” to which Sheila replies “Deal”.

If you keep your Will yourself at home there is always this risk.  However, if you prepare your Will using a solicitor they will offer to store your Will for you safely in their strong room and usually at no charge.  The Will would then be read on your death.

2 – Review your Will regularly

When Jenny and Sheila sit down to go through the Will they discover that their late mother has left everything to Sheila.  The Will had been written 8 years ago when their mother lived with Sheila.

You should keep your Will under review as a Will which no longer reflects your wishes can be heart breaking for the loved ones you leave behind.  We suggest that you review your Will every 4 to 5 years or sooner if your circumstances (family, assets or the law) change.

3 – Leave a note with your Will

It is not uncommon for clients to decide to cut a child out of their Will.

We always advise clients who want to depart from equality between their children to think carefully before doing so.  Even if one child has been more successful in life than the other they may not feel that they should receive less or even nothing at all.   If you are going to depart from equality then it would be good practice to discuss matters with your children and/or place a note with your Will recording your reasons for doing so.

4 – Consider a Deed of Variation

Later on in the programme Sheila offers to split her inheritance with Jenny but not equally as having done some calculations she decides to offer her just 18.6% having taken into account the amount of time she cared for their mother, the amount of time Jenny did, the cost of Jenny’s loft conversion and an estimate of the value it has added to the house.  Initially Jenny flipped at this but calms down and decides to take the offer.

So how can this be done?  Whilst Sheila could gift the funds to her sister that would be a potentially exempt transfer and could have inheritance tax implications in her own estate if she were to die within 7 years of making the gift.  Alternatively, she could enter into a Deed of Variation to re-write the Will so that it is read as if the gift came directly from their late mother therefore not affecting Sheila’s own inheritance tax or capital gains tax situation.

5 – Consider bringing into account lifetime gifts in your Will

There may be times when one child has had money from you, for example, to help with a house purchase or as in Jenny’s case a loft conversion.  Equal division can still be achieved in your Will by bringing into account in the division of your estate between your children any lifetime gifts by way of a “hotchpot” clause.

Don’t let the crisis of this Cold Feet storyline happen to you.  For more information about writing or updating a Will please contact our succession and tax team.

The above blog was written by Alison Craggs, a Senior Associate Solicitor specialising in Wills and Probate at Blake Morgan LLP.

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