Where there's a Will, there isn't always a way
Author: Elizabeth Muston
Some years ago, an elderly client visited our offices to update his Will. We found that his wife also needed a Will but he wasn’t sure if she could make one because she was in a nursing home hundreds of miles away suffering from dementia. We suggested that a solicitor local to the home should visit her to try to establish whether she could understand enough to make a Will and if so, whether she wanted to. We heard no more…
…until the client came back to amend his Will and told us that his wife had died a few years earlier. He said he had inherited everything.
He produced a copy of a Will with what appeared to be his wife’s signature but with no witnesses. The contents were identical to the earlier Will we had made for him in every respect except that a different type of paper had been used and his and her names had been swapped around. Was the Will valid? On the face of it, no, because the signature had not been witnessed. However, other family members produced copies of the same Will with witness signatures and addresses, etc. in various combinations, each accusing the others of misconduct of one sort or another. They were at loggerheads.
Were any signatures forged, why were there all these different copies of the Will which had the same content, and where was the original? No one seemed to know or at least no one was letting on. It seemed that no local solicitor had been instructed. Attempts were made to trace the alleged witnesses whose names and addresses had appeared on at least one copy of the Will but they had either died or moved on without trace.
After a lot of heartache an agreement was finally reached within the family about who should have what from this lady’s estate, but at the cost of several thousand pounds in legal costs and more importantly, serious damage to family relationships. They may possibly never fully recover from this episode.
The reason for all this? We think the issue was originally one of costs. To save money they used the contents of our client’s Will for his wife and someone arranged for it to be signed.
The moral of the story? Love your family by:-
- Realising they have to live with the consequences of your actions long after you have gone;
- Biting the bullet on costs. It always costs more to try to sort out a problem like this, after the event, and you will rest easier knowing you have had a thorough job done; and
- Making up your own mind with independent legal advice to help you consider all the angles. Everyone's circumstances are different and a one-size-fits-all approach is not something we subscribe to. Even a simple Will can require a lot of thought and discussion before it finally gets signed (and witnessed!).