Wills: Lessons Learnt
Lessons from decades of advising clients on Wills
- If you can afford it, consider making gifts of money to some beneficiaries while you are still alive rather than in the Will; you will get the pleasure personally of them saying thank you! It can be very tax-effective too
- Be very careful before treating children unequally in your Will; mostly we share everything equally between our children but sometimes another division is warranted; if you're thinking of going down this path it's useful to ask yourself the questions do the children know and are they all happy about it; neither of those questions are legally required but in real-life they are crucial - the last thing a parent wants to do with a Will is to create a split in the family after you've passed on; there is no more guaranteed way to create ill-will and possibly a permanent rift between your children than a total surprise unequal division after your demise; normally we can suggest possible solutions if this scenario applies to you.
- Do not leave making a Will until the end. Many of us are fragile and not at our best then and so you should have a Will throughout your adult life that properly reflects your considered wishes; it should be updated when there are major changes in your life; do not forget the lessons Shakespeare gave us in King Lear about the general foolishness of giving everything away and being flattered by those who "heave their hearts into their mouths”. You know who you are dealing with and the sudden writing out of the Will of someone who you are close to because of perhaps a sudden disagreement is rarely wise.
- Do not get fixated on certain assets going to certain beneficiaries; sometimes this is a good idea but are you 100% sure that you will still own that asset at your death? Are there circumstances that therefore could happen that could make that gift fail? We can guide you on this.
- Second spouses and children from first marriage; we could write a whole book on this subject so I won't précis the scenarios; rest assured we can walk you through the various best options borne out of our long experience of thousands of Wills; suffice it to say here clean gifts are best and beneficiaries don't always die in the expected order.
- Never consider giving everything to one member of the family with the hope that he or she will distribute it out between the other members; that's not fair on anyone.
- Wills are not the place for score-settling although bearing in mind the legislation designed to protect dependants, sometimes we recommend an explanation to go in or accompany the Will. We definitely don't recommend the following Will (somewhat apocryphal no doubt):-
“A Will of a City financier
- To my wife I leave her lover and the knowledge that I wasn’t the fool she thought I was.
- To my son I leave the pleasure of earning a living. For thirty years he thought the pleasure was mine. He was mistaken.
- To my daughter I leave £150,000. She will need it. The only good business her husband ever did was to marry her.
- To my valet I leave all my clothes he has been steadily stealing from me over the past ten years.
- To my chauffeur I leave all my cars. He almost ruined them and I want him to have the satisfaction of finishing the job.
- To my partner I leave the suggestion that he takes some other man in with him if he expects to do any business.
- And lastly to my cousin Louis who always wanted to be remembered in my Will – hello Louis.”