We represented a client who had prepared a homemade mirror will with his partner, i.e. they left everything to the survivor when the first partner passed away. They had a long period of cohabiting but never married. However, the female was diagnosed with terminal cancer and the couple, who were in their later life, decided to marry to enjoy the end of their lives as husband and wife. What they were not aware of was the fact that marriage revokes a will. Had the wills been drafted by a solicitor or will-writer, they would have been advised of this and could have then made new mirror wills upon their marriage.
Our client was naturally devastated by his wife’s death and then had to face an uncertain financial future when he was advised that her estate would pass to her daughter under the intestacy rules, i.e. the rules which apply when somebody dies without leaving a will. The property they shared was held in the deceased’s sole name but had been dealt with in the homemade will which was now no longer valid. Our client and his step-daughter had always had a frosty relationship and she was reluctant to engage, so we issued an Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 claim. This is a piece of legislation that allows a certain group of people, including a spouse, to bring a claim against a deceased’s estate in the event that their will, or indeed the intestacy rules, does not make reasonable financial provision for them. The court is then able to effectively redistribute the deceased’s estate and has a wide range of powers in this regard.
In this instance, having issued our client’s claim at the court, his step-daughter finally accepted that he had a valid claim and we attended a mediation, a process whereby an independent person (a mediator) helps both sides come to an agreement. An agreement was reached and our client was given a lump sum of money to live on and a life interest in the property he had shared with his partner, i.e. he was able to live there for the remainder of his life, but it would then go to the step-daughter on his death.
Our client’s claim could have been avoided if he and his wife had known that marriage would revoke their wills. It is clearly far better to deal with such matters during your lifetime rather than leaving your family members to pick up the pieces following your death.