Putting Off Approval of Your Will Can be Fatal!

A thirty-eight year old man made an appointment to make a Will with me. He was an only child with no children of his own, a girlfriend and a large family of god-children, nephews and nieces. Importantly, he had a large Estate (circa £1m), most of which he had inherited from his parents.

I learnt that he wanted to try to mitigate his Inheritance Tax liability, which we intended to do with the use of a Trust outside his Will and he wanted his god-children to benefit from the bulk of his Estate as “his nephews and nieces didn’t pay him visits nor were they particularly close to him”. He did not wish his girlfriend to own anything he left her as she already had considerable assets in her own right. So, we agreed that the girlfriend should have only a life-interest in part of the Estate with an eventual benefit for the god-children and the rest of his Estate passing outright to his god-children.

As per my Terms of Business, following the 7-day cooling off period (which is now 14 days), his drafts were produced and sent to him within 3 days. As is commonly the case, clients then “sit on” the drafts and after 10 days or so, I follow up with a phone call to a) ensure the drafts have been received and b) to ask whether any amendments or corrections are required. He informed me that he “hadn’t had time to sit and study the drafts” so, we agreed to leave it for another week – ten days. When I phoned him again as promised after a week or so, there was no answer so I left a message. A further week went by and on phoning for the third time, again there was no answer so I left a further message. This went on for several more weeks.

One afternoon, about two months later I received a phone call from a gentleman who claimed to be my client’s uncle, informing me of his sudden death from a heart attack. I was dumbfounded! The firm of solicitors who had been appointed to deal with my client’s affairs following his death contacted me to let me know the full circumstances and outcomes, which were as follows.

My client had gone for one of his twice-weekly work-outs at the local gym and had suffered his heart attack in the shower afterwards. An ambulance was called and arrived within a matter of minutes, but he was dead on arrival at the local hospital. The Will instruction and subsequent draft which I had sent for my client’s approval, was insufficient to be considered as an actual Will, therefore his Estate fell in to intestacy. An immediate liability to Inheritance Tax in the sum of £300+k was payable. The girfriend got nothing. The god-children got nothing. The nephews and nieces got everything. Everything he didn’t want to happen, in reality actually did happen. If only he’d approved his draft Will – things could have been very different.