Soap spat shows need to involve Lawyers in last wishes, says Sheffield expert

Legal advice for will creation

20.04.2006

Coronation Streets feud between Mike Baldwin's sons over his estate highlights the need to take legal advice when drawing up wills to avoid will disputes, says a leading South Yorkshire lawyer.

Adam Draper, of the specialist contentious probate team at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, based at its offices in Sheffield's Riverside, says the spat between siblings Adam and Danny shows how arguments over estates can tear families apart and sunder relationships forever in the real world too.

About 12.6 million people "1.5 million more than usual - tuned in earlier this month to see factory owner Baldwin, played by Johnny Briggs, die in the arms of arch rival Ken Barlow.

Baldwin, who first appeared in the 46-year-old soap in 1976, had been suffering from Alzheimer's for several months. He passed away after leaving hospital, where he was being treated for pneumonia, in a daze and finding his way back to the street.

Resolving a will dispute

Mr Draper explained: Mike could have made as many wills in his lifetime as he wanted, but, all things being equal, it's his final one which will decide how his estate is divided-up and the dispute resolved.

For this to be valid, though, Mike must be found to have had testamentary capacity - which means being aware at the time he gave instructions and executed the document that he was making a will, knew the extent of his property and understood the claims on his estate.

And, as Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, it may be a close call as to whether he met these conditions at the crucial time.

Will deemed invalid

If Mike's will is deemed invalid, and there are no validly executed earlier ones, his estate will be distributed to the closest surviving relatives, in accordance with the rules of intestacy. That means, as Mike was unmarried, his sons - Danny, Adam and Mark - inheriting the estate equally.

Mr Draper explained that in the real world, as a matter of good practice, courts recommended that wills drawn up for old or seriously ill people were witnessed by doctors, who ought to record their examinations and findings.

He added, however, that even if the testator had lost capacity and would not regain it, in some circumstances the specialist Court of Protection could make a will on their behalf, aimed at setting-out what they would have said if they still had capacity.

Mr Draper then set out Irwin Mitchells top tips for people involved in drawing up wills:

  • Where a testator is very old or ill, relatives should consult a solicitor in advance about formalities for executing the will and obtaining medical evidence.
  • Ensure that witnesses to a will are reliable, competent and likely to live longer than the testator. If there is a dispute, they may be required to confirm their opinion of the testators capacity.
  • If you marry, seek legal advice about a will. Marriage automatically revokes an earlier will.
  • Consult a solicitor if you doubt the deceased's capacity or are suspicious about the circumstances surrounding a will's execution.

Irwin Mitchell's specialist contentious probate team advises on challenges to, and defending claims concerning, wills, inheritance, enduring power of attorney and undue influence. They can be contacted on 0370 1500 100.

Have you got a will dispute? If we can help you or someone you know with a similar case, please visit our Wills section where we can help you resolve a will dispute or create a new will.