Government Bequest Debate ‘Shows Importance Of Clarity Within Wills’

Legal Expert Reacts To Controversy Regarding £520,000 Donation

14.08.2013

By Rob Dixon

The debate regarding how a £520,000 bequest left to the Government should be used, has shown how vital it is for wills to be drafted in the clearest possible manner and the need to ensure loved ones fully understand the wishes included in such documents, legal specialists who specialise in contesting wills have warned.

Reports have revealed that a Bristol nurse, Joan Edwards, outlined in her will that the funds should be left to "whichever government is in office...in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit."

According to the Daily Mail, this has led the funds to be split by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats for use in their own funds – making Ms Edwards, who died last year, the biggest donor to the parties between April and June.

Concerns have been raised regarding whether the money was intended to be viewed as a bequest to the nation, as opposed to being treated as a political party donation. Spokespeople for both parties have since stated they now intend to hand the funds to the Treasury.

Rebecca Forder, a legal specialist in Irwin Mitchell’s Will, Trust and Estate Disputes team, specialises in providing advice and support to people who are concerned over the contents of a loved one’s will and want to challenge the terms of such documents.

Commenting on this issue, she said: "Upon the death of a loved one, executors responsible for carrying out the terms of the will are generally asked to ensure that all of the wishes included in such documents are met.

"From the reports, it seems the difficulty in this scenario is simply that the wording of the will failed to properly outline exactly how the deceased hoped the money would be treated. Asking to leave money to the government is fine, but stipulating exactly what it should be used for would have been a very wise step.

"This would have left all parties involved in little doubt as to where the donation should go and could have avoided this very difficult and public debate regarding the funds."

Rebecca added: "Through our work, we have seen numerous cases where controversies and misunderstandings have arisen, and torn families apart, as a result of a lack of clarity in wills.

"We would urge anyone making a will to ensure that they seek professional, expert advice when drafting the document, while we would also recommend that they sit down and discuss the decisions behind their wishes with their friends and family. This should hopefully leave no one in doubt as to what you hope to happen when you pass away.

"However, if contentious issues do emerge, we would also call on people to seek legal advice on how they may be able to contest a will and gain access to the inheritance that they believe they deserve."

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in relation to Interpretation of the Terms of Wills