Cara Grant, Private Client Partner, writes about the importance of keeping Wills under review.
A recent case reported in the legal journals has highlighted the importance of keeping Wills under review.
Mr Martin made a Will in 1986, in which he left his entire estate to his wife. Mr and Mrs Martin later separated. From about 2009, Mr Martin lived with his partner, Mrs Williams, as ‘husband and wife’. They lived in a property in Dorchester that they owned jointly as ‘tenants in common’ in equal shares.
Mr Martin did not update his Will following his separation from his wife.
Mr Martin died in 2014. As he and Mrs Williams owned their property as ‘tenants in common’, Mr Martin’s estate (including his 50% share of the Dorchester house), passed under the terms of his Will to Mrs Martin. Mrs Williams did not benefit from Mr Martin’s Will at all.
Mrs Williams challenged the provisions of Mr Martin’s Will on the basis that, as his partner, he had not made ‘reasonable financial provision’ for her. Claims by cohabitees are limited to provision for ‘maintenance’.
Mrs Williams owned a 50% interest in an inherited property in Bristol in which her sister lived (and who owned the other 50% share). When the case first came to court, the Judge disregarded Mrs Williams’ interest in the Bristol property and decided that Mr Martin’s 50% share in the Dorchester property should pass to Mrs Williams.
Mrs Martin appealed the first judge’s decision. The Court of Appeal decided to take Mrs Williams’ interest in the Bristol property into consideration. The Judge decided that Mrs Williams needed the guarantee of a home but giving her Mr Martin’s 50% share was excessive. The Court decided that Mrs Williams should be able to live in the Dorchester property for the rest of her life but that Mr Martin’s 50% share should ultimately pass to Mrs Martin.
If Mr and Mrs Martin had owned the Dorchester property as ‘joint tenants’ as opposed to ‘tenants in common’, Mr Martin’s 50% share would have passed automatically to Mrs Williams.
Mr Martin should have made a new Will to ensure that Mrs Williams was adequately provided for.
Had Mr Martin sought legal advice, he would have been advised about the implications of owning a property as ‘tenants in common’, the importance of having an up-to-date Will, and the legal implications of being married to Mrs Martin.
If you don’t have a Will or haven’t had it professionally reviewed in the past couple of years please contact me for a no-obligation discussion.
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