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Don’t want to leave your estate to your children? Make sure your Will is watertight

Being crystal clear in your Will about who is to inherit your estate is always important but never more so than when you don't intend to leave it to your family.

In these situations, taking specialist legal advice to make sure your Will is watertight is vital and to ensure that as far as possible, disgruntled relatives can't challenge your wishes later.

A recent survey has revealed that almost 30 per cent of retirees plan to leave their assets to beneficiaries other than close family members.

This can be due to reasons including feeling that charities are more deserving, that relatives are already comfortably off or that they need to 'make their own way' in life.

However, if you are in effect disinheriting your family, it is important to implement safeguards including clearly explaining the rationale behind your actions.

Crucial court case

A significant ruling by the Supreme Court, in a case brought by Heather Ilott against her mother Melita Jackson, underlines this.

Mrs Jackson left her entire £486,000 estate to three animal charities and included a letter with her Will explaining why she was disinheriting her daughter

She also left specific instructions to her executors to resist any attempt by her daughter to challenge the Will.

Although all the courts involved in the case agreed it was only fair that Ms Ilott should receive some money from her mother's estate, the Supreme Court also made it clear that if you want to disinherit someone, you must have good reasons and be able to explain them.

One of the determining factors was Mrs Jackson's lack of connection to the charities named in her Will which she had neither donated to nor worked with in her lifetime.


If you want to exclude children from your Will, you need to make your reasons clearer than ever. Ways you can do this include:

  • Having your Will professionally drawn up by a specialist solicitor;
  • Leaving a letter with your Will explaining your actions and why you haven't benefitted your family - for instance, because they are financially independent;
  • Outlining any special relationship with a chosen charity and why it is close to your heart;
  • Keeping your family in the loop as much as possible about your intentions;
  • Signing a sworn affidavit stating that under no circumstances should there be a challenge to your Will on the grounds you haven't provided for family;
  • Obtaining a medical report, preferably from a psychiatrist, confirming you had mental capacity at the time of making the Will;
  • Considering making a trust instead of a Will which can be used to specify beneficiaries but can't be challenged in the same way.

Peace of mind

Any Will can end up being challenged or contested if someone thinks they have not been left what they were promised, but a properly and professionally drawn up Will by a solicitor is likely to be far easier to defend.

It's also an inexpensive way of avoiding difficulties for your relatives and friends in the future in the event of your death and brings peace of mind by putting you in control of the final destination of your estate.

For advice on making or updating a Will, please contact our Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity Team.

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