Does your Will clearly reflect your wishes?


Nicky Sunderlans

Many people put off updating their Wills; thinking that if their family know their wishes then “it will all be fine”. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. A recent dispute over a Will made by a farmer in Wales has created family discord and racked up a bill of over £68,000 in legal fees just for the claimant, let alone the defendants.

Aged 17, James Davies gave up a career in the police service to work hard on his father’s farm for what he described as a pittance; relying on a promise that he would inherit the farm from his father. James also made valuable improvements to the farm on the understanding of his inheriting it. However, following his father’s death and on the Will being made public, James was shocked to discover that he had been given only a right to use the farm until he reached the age of 60; it would then be split between himself and his four other siblings equally.

James’ two brothers, the executors of the Will, said they were simply trying to administer the estate as set out in the Will and in what they believed to be their father’s wishes. They were unaware of any promise for James to inherit the farm outright.

During the four day court trial Judge Milwyn Jarman QD described the case as a “very sad, bitter, family dispute”. The judge found that James had been promised that he would inherit the farm and ordered the defendants to pay James’ legal fees on top of their own costs.

In light of the costs and family tensions caused, it’s clear that it would have been much more desirable for all parties if the matter could have been resolved out of court. Where disputes like this arise, it’s in the interests of all to settle them as quickly as possible, both in order to avoid legal costs and family upset, and to allow the beneficiary quicker access to their assets. In this case, for example, to invest in the farm and continue farming.

In more broad terms, this case highlights the importance of making sure your Will is up-to-date and clearly reflects your wishes and, that in the event of a dispute, contains adequate detailed information to provide the evidence necessary to ensure those wishes are upheld.

A version of this article appeared in Country Life on 5 September 2015.

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