Why the time for writing a Will is now

When a loved one dies it can be a deeply traumatic and emotional time and the last thing those suffering the loss want to contend with is a complex and potentially fractious legal dispute.

Handling matters of an estate may, on the surface, appear clear-cut. An individual or individuals may feel they know exactly how the person who has passed wished their estate to be handled. Some may have had conversations prior to death, even given explicit instructions on what to do.

However if anything is lost in translation, or someone else has a differing view, or it isn’t entirely clear who should be managing the process, complications and conflicts can quickly ensue; even if they had previously appeared unlikely.

Take the high profile case of American singing legend Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”, who sadly passed away in 2018.

Franklin’s instructions on how her estate would be managed and ultimately divided consisted of two hand-written notes found locked in a cabinet while the most recent, dating from 2014, was found in a notebook under cushions at her home.

The notes were difficult to decipher, while many parts contained crossed out words with supplementary notes in the margins. There were also questions over whether such a document was even legal under law.

The nuances and complexities of her finances also made it difficult to clearly ascertain the best route forward and a route that she herself would have desired.

Sadly, a common consensus could not be found – with two of her sons objecting to the Wills – resulting in painful, drawn out legal proceedings.

Ultimately, it’s highly likely that everyone involved in this case wanted the same outcome – a fair conclusion in keeping with Aretha’s wishes. However, even with the best intentions, it is often very difficult for everybody involved to be completely in agreement; as is often the case when a degree of subjectivity is evident.

This is of course no judgement on Aretha Franklin who, aside from her enduring legacy as a singer, did a huge amount for social causes and was famed for her devotion to family.

It does however demonstrate that when it comes to matters of estate, any instruction or wish that falls short of legally-binding, unambiguous legal documentation can create problems at what is clearly a very difficult time for those concerned.

While this case is a particularly high profile one, it is an all too familiar occurrence which we encounter every day.

To put it into some perspective, it’s thought that over 30 million UK adults are at risk of dying without a Will – which roughly translates to around 60% of the adult population.

The fact that financial estates the size of Aretha Franklin’s are rare is largely irrelevant – everything is relative and in many cases the financial aspect of an individual’s estate is of secondary importance; lack of clarity over possessions or elements of an estate can be more of an emotional matter than a financial one.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that we don’t know what is around the corner. With this in mind, it becomes clear that the best time to create a Will is now.

By creating a Will – which can be amended at any time (we know circumstances can change) – early rather than later in life, a number of benefits immediately become evident, including:

Protecting loved ones: Knowing you have a legally-binding, unambiguous Will means you can be sure that those close to you will not have to contend with the contesting of your estate – with all the physical, emotional and mental stress this can cause.

Peace of mind: An estate is built up over many years of hard work. Creating a Will ensures that the fruits of your life’s work go exactly where you intend them to go.

Leaving your affairs with someone you trust: A Will enables you to appoint an Executor, someone who you trust to handle your estate once you are gone.

What’s more, when approaching a respected, trusted legal expert, Wills can be relatively straightforward, cost-effective and leave you free to enjoy life with those who matter most.

Wills & Trusts is an award-winning independent financial planning organisation with over 20 years’ in the industry. To us, it isn’t just about providing legal documents, it’s about getting to know our clients, understanding their unique circumstances and acting accordingly, 100% in their interests. From estate planning to legal matters, we take pride in our no cookie-cutter approach to each person’s circumstances as an individual.

Paula O'Reilly

October 1, 2019