Will Disputes Experts Warn Intestacy Laws No Substitute For Professional Will
A judge has ruled three siblings should inherit their father’s estate equally after his will was deemed to be forged.
Donald Face, who passed away in 2017, was ruled to have died intestate after his daughter Rowena challenged her sister Rebeca’s sudden unearthing of a will promising her the majority of the estate, arguing she had conspired with two witnesses.
A High Court judge overturned the will, finding it to be ‘totally without merit’ and a ‘fabricated document’. The case has been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Experts will dispute lawyers at leading national law firm Irwin Mitchell say the case highlights that where there is already tension between potential beneficiaries of a parent’s estate, a professionally drawn will is best to try and prevent that disharmony erupting into open warfare and a bitter court struggle.
Expert Opinion“This is a truly sad case of real toxicity between siblings and a distressed, elderly father who didn’t know why his relationships had broken down with his children.
“Sadly we see sibling rivalry all too often, spilling out into open warfare after the last of the parents has died. Aside from the stress and pressure it puts on the parties involved, often the next generation suffer having had no part in the saga.
“Although it might not have repaired relationships, had the father made the will which his solicitor was encouraging him to consider doing, matters may have transpired very differently indeed without the bitter and toxic court battle that ensued. James Laycock - Partner
Experts at Irwin Mitchell also point out that relying on the laws of intestacy to achieve equality among surviving children should not be a preferred substitute for having a professional will made, given the tensions which can arise when warring children are left each with an entitlement to administer the estate of their parent.
James continued: “A will is not necessarily the cure for family tensions, but having one made by a professional who is well-versed in the types of challenges which family members may present, and how to address those before the will is signed, will go a very long way to prevent these destructive court battles.
“Even if there is a desire to treat all children equally on death, assuming that the rules of intestacy will do the job by splitting the estate equally anyway so that there is no need for the cost of a will, is generally not the way to avoid all-out war if problems are brewing.
“It won’t address the tensions as to who should take the grant and there is no opportunity for the deceased to consider the tax efficiency of the bequests, make specific gifts to certain people or charitable donations if that’s what they would like to do before splitting the remainder of the estate equally between their surviving children.
“We buy insurance to protect us in certain circumstances, so why do so many of us still not invest the time and cost to get professionally drawn up wills made? Such wills provide the best possible chance of assets passing to loved ones and avoiding or at least minimising the spectre of a bitter and draining court battle.”
The matter concerned three siblings - Rebeca, Rowena, and Richard - and the estate of their late father Donald. Following their father’s death, Rebeca submitted a will dated September 2017 to probate that was purported to have been signed by their father. This will had allegedly previously been lost, though Rebeca claimed to have found a photocopy of it in the deceased’s house.
The will gave gifts of £5,000 to each grandchild and appointed Rebeca as the residuary beneficiary. There were specific clauses which disinherited the other two siblings with apparent reasons why.
Rowena contended that this will had been forged by Rebeca, and in reality their father had died intestate (on the basis that the deceased’s will had been lost and could not be located), meaning all three siblings should benefit equally.
The court was sure that the Rebeca had forged the will and conspired with the two witnesses to give the impression that the will represented her father’s last wishes and had been properly witnessed. Rebeca’s evidence and that of the two witnesses was rejected.