Deciding Who Inherits Your Estate When You Die

Year Published: 2020

The recent case of Wales v Dixon 2020 highlights the importance of giving clear instructions when making a Will to ensure that your wishes are carried out following death and it is clear who inherits your estate. Helen Gowin, Head of Estate Administration at SAS Daniels LLP outlines the case.

Mr Wales died in 2015 and his wife had died in 2008; he left an estate of just over £600,000. The couple did not have children of their own and Mrs Wales left all of her estate to her husband when she died. Mr Wales decided to change his Will after his wife’s death to include some charity gifts but he told the writer of the Will that he wanted the rest of his estate to go to the children of his nephews and nieces. However, he did not name them.

When he died, he was survived by children of his brother and sister. These blood nephews and nieces had children of their own who would therefore inherit, however, he was also survived by children of his wife’s nephews and a niece. Would they also benefit from the Will? The court was asked to decide if the children of the nephews and niece by marriage should also get a share of the estate or whether it should only go to the bloodline.

What Did the Court Consider?

The court had to interpret the terms of the Will and rely on previous cases to decide who would benefit. Usually, reference to nephews and nieces only includes blood relatives so it would appear that only the children of Mr Wales’ siblings would inherit the estate. However, the court agreed to also look at the background to the preparation of the Will and evidence from the families to try and establish the meaning of the term “nephew and niece”. This included looking at a previous Will made by the couple in which they had left their estates to named individuals on both sides of the family when either of them died. What was also important was that the family of his late wife also continued to visit Mr Wales and stayed in touch regularly with him until he died. It was evident that he maintained a good relationship with them even though they were relatives by marriage.

The judge also asked the person who prepared the Will for their notes when they took instructions from Mr Wales. It appeared that the instructions were only given by telephone and the person writing the Will did not ask to see what he had done in his previous Wills. They did not take full details of his family nor the names of the people he wanted to benefit. Therefore, the circumstances surrounding the way in which the instructions for his Will were taken were less than satisfactory and did not assist the Court in fully understanding his instructions.

The judge took into account the earlier Wills made by Mr and Mrs Wales and the fact that they had previously benefited both sides of the family, particularly as Mr Wales had inherited all of his wife’s estate. They decided that Mr Wales did intend to benefit the family of his late wife as well as his own.

Seek Professional Advice when Deciding who Inherits Your Estate

This case highlights the importance of giving clear and detailed instructions for a Will. At SAS Daniels LLP, a solicitor will take into account your full family background, discuss with you the reasons for any changes to earlier Wills and keep detailed notes of these upon preparing your Will. In the case of the estate of Mr Wales, this would have saved the legal costs in having to approach the court to interpret his instructions and would have saved the strain on the families involved.

If you would like professional advice on estate administration or guidance on who inherits your estate, please contact Helen Gowin, Head of Estate Administration & Probate, on 01260 282351 or email [email protected].

For more information on the preparation of Wills, please contact Justine Clowes, Head of Private Client Group, on 01625 442120 or email [email protected].

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