I was recently asked by a sceptical friend to give a good reason why she should make a Will. I answered that, in fact, I could give her 216 reasons…………
216 is the number of beneficiaries who recently inherited a moderately valued estate of £250,000; where some received cheques for as little as £3.76……
The deceased had close friends and favoured charities; however because he did not have a valid Will, his estate passed under the intestacy rules with the total number of persons benefiting reaching 216. Of the 216, few knew the deceased personally, and the majority had never heard of him.
This may be considered to be an unsatisfactory conclusion; apart from the question of fairness, as to who benefits under these circumstances, there was a considerable cost associated with locating the 216 beneficiaries. Approximately one third of the estate value was spent locating beneficiaries, who were spread as far and wide as Russia and Canada. In addition, this was a time-consuming process, which took over three years to complete.
Care needed to be taken to ensure that further beneficiaries did not come forward post-distribution of the estate. For this reason, expensive Missing Beneficiary Insurance was required, in order to provide cover against an unidentified beneficiary making a future claim.
In total, it took five years to complete the administration of the estate, and sadly, some beneficiaries passed away before they received their inheritance.
Understandably, the beneficiaries who knew the deceased were dissatisfied that they were sharing the estate with so many. In addition, the size of individual shares depended largely on the number of persons in each family group, with some beneficiaries collecting several thousand pounds, and some as little as £3.76.
I never met the deceased during his lifetime; however I am sure it would not have been his intention that his estate of £250,000 be distributed between 216 people, many of whom he had never met or heard of.
In fact, what makes all of this even worse is that the deceased had actually made a Will, which was to benefit a number of charities; but the Will was deemed invalid due to an error by the person who drafted the Will. The writer of the Will was not a specialist Wills & Probate lawyer or a member of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP). Fortunately for the company who drafted the Will, the charities decided against suing for the loss of inheritance caused by the negligent drafting.
A professionally drawn Will would have avoided all of these problems, and the deceased’s choice of beneficiaries would have inherited, without the expense and delay caused by intestacy.
When making a Will or reviewing an existing Will, make sure the person who is representing you is a specialist in the field of Wills and Probate; and ideally a member of a professional body such as STEP or Solicitors for the Elderly. As has been demonstrated in this case, even a relatively simple Will can go wrong.
This is clearly an extreme example, but the important point is that having a valid Will avoids uncertainty, and allows you to control the destination of your assets after you have gone.