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Why married couples need to make sure their wills are up to date – and cover all eventualities

The importance of making a will which covers ‘what if’ scenarios, like dying at the same time as your spouse or shortly after, has been highlighted by a recent court case.

Alan Bailey died unexpectedly of a heart attack three months after his wife Margaret’s death from cancer.

He had intended to make a new will but hadn’t got round to it.

As a result, and because his will did not provide for what should happen if he died after his wife, the couple’s two families ended up in disagreement and had to ask the High Court to determine who should inherit their estates.

Mrs Bailey’s family got nothing and Mr Bailey’s family got everything.

This was undoubtedly not what Mr and Mrs Bailey had wanted. In fact, the court found that they had intended both sides of their family to benefit substantially from their estates.

What happens to your will when your spouse dies?

In this case, the couple, both 71 when they died, had no children and each left behind a will leaving their estate to each other.

After Margaret’s death in February 2019, Alan made an appointment to make a new will but didn’t execute it.

This meant that when he died suddenly in May, his estate – including everything he had inherited from Margaret, passed to his siblings under the laws of intestacy. Margaret’s siblings were entitled to nothing.

Why did this case end up in court?

Margaret’s brother and sister claimed the couple had made ‘deathbed’ gifts to them before they died.

But the judge, though sympathetic, found that the strict legal requirements needed for a deathbed gift to qualify as valid, had not been met.

This meant the entirety of Mr and Mrs Bailey’s estate passed to Mr Bailey’s family.

Get in touch

This sad case illustrates how taking active steps to ensure your will is kept up to date so that it reflects your wishes can avoid stressful and potentially costly inheritance disputes.

If you need help and advice about making or reviewing your Will, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity team.

Or for help and advice about contesting a Will, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Contentious Trusts and Probate team.

Wards Solicitors is one of the few South West law firms to have a dedicated team of specialists in resolving disputes concerning Wills, estates and family trusts.

Our lawyers are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts & Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Law Society’s Probate Panel. All demand expertise and up-to-date knowledge from their members.

The team is praised by the independent Legal 500 Guide for 2021 for its excellent track record in dealing with high-value disputes over Wills, Trusts and Probate.

  • Partner Emma Kerry is named as a key member of Wards Solicitors’ Contentious Trusts and Probate team. She is described as: “careful, competent and a sensible pair of hands. She plainly has a good understanding of her field, a pragmatic outlook, and a willingness to seek specialist advice when she considers it appropriate.’

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