I acted for clients who were beneficiaries of an estate. The deceased left them gifts worth several hundred thousand pounds each. However, the beneficiaries were told by the executor that the estate was in so much debt that it would be unable to pay the gifts in full, if at all. The executor advised the beneficiaries that it would be in their interest if they signed over their legacies to the spouse of the deceased, thus reducing the estate’s tax bill (gifts to spouses are exempt from inheritance tax). They were told that this was maximising their chances of getting anything, albeit via the deceased’s spouse, not direct.
My clients signed Deeds of Variation thus giving up their entitlement to the legacies without the benefit of legal advice. Not having heard anything further from the executor, they contacted me several months later.
The fact that my clients had given up their right to inherit made the matter complicated, as non-beneficiaries do not have right to obtain estate accounts or raise enquiries into matters of administration. There was also no formal agreement pursuant to which the deceased’s spouse would be obliged to give anything to my clients.
I advised and represented my clients in an application for the Deeds of Variation to be set aside on the basis of misrepresentation. We negotiated with the estate and its beneficiaries and managed to secure payments out of the estate for my clients. The payments were made instantly.