The importance of regularly reviewing your Will
The general consensus is that everyone should review their Will at least every 5 years. However, there are life changing events which will mean a review outside of this timeframe becomes necessary. These include:
- a change in the law; and
- a change in your personal circumstances (e.g. the disposal of an asset, the death of a beneficiary or executor, or a material change in your estate).
A recent High Court case reaffirmed the importance of regularly reviewing your Will. The case concerned the estate of Ms Joyce Appleby (‘Joyce’) and her last Will which was executed in 2009 (‘the Will’).
The Will stated that Joyce wished for her estate to be split equally between her two sons, Don Ash (‘Don’) and Gordon Ash (‘Gordon’). However in the event that Don was to pass away before Joyce, his share would pass to his wife Cynthia Ash (‘Cindy’).
Don and Cindy’s relationship sadly broke down and Don fathered a child with his new partner, Maya Gocheva-Ash (‘Maya’), in 2011. As their relationship had deteriorated beyond repair, Don and Cindy agreed to a divorce, which was finalised in 2013.
Don and Maya were married in 2015 and remained married until Don unexpectedly passed away in November 2017.
Joyce passed away in May 2019.
Following Joyce’s death, there was a dispute as to the interpretation of the Will and whether Maya or Cindy were to inherit Don’s share of Joyce’s estate.
The Will stated that Don’s share was to pass to “his wife” Cindy Ash; however, Cindy was no longer married to Don at the time of his death.
Maya’s position was that, as Don’s current wife, she was to inherit his share and that the inclusion of Cindy’s name was merely to show that she was Don’s wife at the time that the Will was executed.
Cindy opposed this argument and argued that it was Joyce’s intention that she was to benefit in the unfortunate event that Don passed away before her. This was one of the reasons why Joyce had purposely named Cindy in the Will.
In her evidence, Cindy informed the Court that she enjoyed a “mother-daughter relationship” with Joyce and this continued following her divorce from Don. Gordon supported Cindy’s evidence in that he informed the Court that Cindy continued to remain a part of the family and she was effectively treated as Joyce’s daughter.
In his ruling, Judge Scher accepted that Joyce and Cindy shared a very close relationship, which made Cindy a family member in her own right. He concluded that it was Joyce’s intention that the gift would pass to Cindy, even if she was, at the time, Don’s ex-wife. It was not Joyce’s intention that the word ‘wife’ referred to whoever was married to Don at the time of his death.
Maya was ordered to pay Cindy and Gordon’s legal costs, which amounted to approximately £50,000.
Sadly, no one will ever be 100% certain as to what Joyce would have wanted, however, this case shows how important it is to regularly review your Will to ensure that the content is clear and accurately reflects your intentions.
If you would like assistance with making a new Will, please contact our our Wealth and Estate Planning team or, should you require assistance with understanding the interpretation of a Will, you are welcome to call 020 7288 4760 to speak to Elle McDonald or another member of the Disputed Wills and Trusts team.