Wills and probate can be a legal minefield particularly if they are not done properly and with due regard to a person's capacity.
In September, a report confirmed that only 40 per cent of Britons take the trouble to make a will. Presumably, all those who do make a will expect their wishes to be carried out.
But that’s not a safe assumption and there are very good reasons both to get solicitors involved in the drafting and to ensure appropriate specialist advice is taken on capacity issues where there is any doubt at all as to a testator’s capacity.
Let’s start with the old maxim ‘Charity begins at home’ – in other words, our personal responsibility for others begins with our own family members.
But one alarming dispute has recently made headlines showing that charities could seek to challenge a document that purports to remove the entitlement they would have had under an earlier will. The case bears closer examination and flags up some useful lessons for anyone making a will.
It’s a Dog’s Life
Tracey Leaning died in March 2015 following a battle with cancer. Throughout her life she had been a dog lover and it was no surprise that a document, prepared in 2014, left her £340,000 estate to her partner, Richard Guest on condition that he looked after her three dogs, Tilly, Eva and Ben.
No doubt when that document was completed, Ms Leaning was reassured by the knowledge that those closest to her – both in human and animal form – would be well provided for.
So far so good. However, in 2007 and some time before she had met Mr Guest, Ms Leaning had prepared an earlier will that left her entire estate to four charities including the Dogs Trust.
Upon her death in 2015, the charities discovered that they were not in line for a share of the estate and wrote to Mr Guest asking him to go through the process of proving that the later, handwritten, document is a valid will.
The major charities are all run along business lines now and the Dogs Trust is no different, with total income in the year ending 2016 of nearly £100m. More impressive still as the table below shows, that substantial topline reflected a 10 per cent year-on-year increase.
Significantly, more than 30 per cent of the Trust’s substantial income is derived from gifts contained in a will (“legacies”) so it’s no surprise that they – and other charities – could take a keener interest where a will is said to have been revised and removes or reduces their entitlement.
Going back to the claim against Mr Guest, although news of the dispute has broken, it’s not clear whether proceedings have been issued yet. He is reported to have offered £60,000 to the charities to buy off the risk of a claim but as yet there is no news as to whether that has resolved the dispute.