Better estate planning would have prevented Michael Winner’s widow being ‘left penniless’

Year Published: 2013

Following the recent death of Michael Winner the headlines have screamed how his widow, Geraldine has been left penniless as all Mr Winner’s assets had been frozen following his death.

To give this case some context; it’s worth noting that when someone dies, it is the ‘norm’ for assets owned in the sole name of a deceased to be frozen. To unlock the assets, generally a grant of representation needs to be obtained by the deceased’s personal representatives (executors or administrators). This can be either a grant of probate if there is a valid will, or a grant of letters of administration – if there is neither a will nor executors. Obtaining a grant of representation may take some time and even then the estate may not be available for immediate distribution.

While this process is going on, you would hope that any dependants will have sufficient means in which to live comfortably; therefore, I would have expected Mr Winner – when drawing up his will – to have been asked if following his death, Geraldine would have enough money to live on until his estate could be sorted out.

Often married couples or registered civil partners do have independent resources whether simply separate bank accounts or completely independent finances. However, where a surviving spouse / civil partner will not have funds, the answer is to set up a joint account or make a gift of money to the ‘poorer’ spouse / civil partner during their joint lifetimes. Of course, it requires some judgment as to how much might be required, as it could take longer than expected for the deceased’s estate to be released.

Another way to ensure dependants are not left out in the cold is by setting up insurance, either in trust or payable directly to a surviving spouse or civil partner, so it’s not part of the deceased’s estate on death and not subject to the need for a grant of representation. It’s worth noting that with this form of insurance, there are formalities that need to be completed before funds will be paid out by the insurers or trustees. In Mr Winner’s case this may not have been feasible owing to his age and poor health.

There is a lesson to be learned, which is that planning for what happens on death is not simply a matter of making a will. There is a need to understand how your nearest and dearest will be able to cope financially until your estate is released to them, which could take some time.

At SAS Daniels we do more than make wills for clients, we have sympathetic and experienced wills and estate planning solicitors who make sure your loved ones are not left to struggle, during a time when they need the most help.

For further information, please contact a member of our Wills & Wealth Planning team on 01625 442100.

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