Heather Ilott was recently awarded £164,000 after a decade-long legal battle to have her mother’s will overruled.
The award represented a third of her mother’s £486,000 estate, which had previously been left in its entirety to various animal charities. In a letter accompanying the will, the mother explained that she’d disinherited Heather because she’d left home in 1978 at the age of 17 to live with her (now) husband.
Despite the explanation, the judge ruled in Heather’s favour after deciding that ‘reasonable provision’ had not been made for her. They added that the mother had acted ‘capriciously’ towards her daughter and had not established a meaningful connection to the charities she’d nominated.
So, does this landmark ruling mean that having a will is no longer a watertight guarantee that your wishes will be carried out?
Well, there’s been a lot of panicked chatter about it, but personally I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. This sort of ruling happens once in a blue moon and most people who have a will and ‘Expression of Wishes’ (EoWs) can still fully expect them to be carried out.
But there is an art to writing these documents in a way that reduces the potential for misinterpretation, challenge or heartache.
Wills should simply state what you want to happen. You can’t use them to attach conditions to your gifts or give reasons for your decisions. That’s where an ‘EoW’ comes in. This deals in the hows and whys and can cover things like how you’d like your funeral to be arranged or why you’re excluding someone from your will.
EoWs aren’t binding as some of your wishes might prove impossible to carry out (for example if you’ve asked for your ashes to be scattered on Everest’s Summit). But the clearer and more reasonable they are, the easier it will be for your executors to follow your instructions through.
That said, it’s almost impossible to leave emotion aside completely. The will-writing process can raise big questions about family ties, and friendships that you’ve probably never considered before.
That’s where hiring an objective 3rd party can help. Limetree have over 20 years’ experience of coaching clients through the big questions, resulting clearly written documents grounded in sound advice.
And like the wills we write, our fees are very reasonable too.