Senior solicitor and director Mark Jones discusses why it’s so important to ensure that your Will and actions set out reasonable expectations for your estate.
One Saturday recently, I arranged to have some food shopping delivered by one of the local supermarkets. When the delivery arrived, I was handed a card from a well-known wine producer which said something along the lines of ‘We have noticed you have bought sauvignon blanc previously. We thought you might like to try ours and we have included a free miniature bottle with your shopping so that you can enjoy a glass with our compliments”.
Being a typical lawyer, my immediate thoughts were “Doesn’t sharing the details of my food order with a third party breach my rights under the General Data Protection Regulations?” On the other hand, free wine on a Saturday night. What’s not to like?
Except that when I came to unpack my shopping my free miniature bottle of wine was nowhere to be seen.
I checked the bags and checked them again; I went outside and checked the area of my driveway where the shopping had been unloaded but, no, definitely no free wine. This annoyed me intensely, to the extent that for the rest of Saturday I was grumpy about the fact that I had not received the free miniature bottle of wine which was probably worth about £1.20 and I hadn’t known existed until I read the card. Or didn’t exist, more to the point.
What this demonstrates is the importance of expectations. Reading the card had given me the expectation of receiving some free wine and when it did not materialise I was annoyed even though I was not expecting it in the first place and I much prefer red wine to white in any event. Had free wine never been mentioned, I’d have been perfectly happy with my food delivery and got on with my regular Saturday night pursuits such as watching Match of the Day with a large bag of Doritos.
Expectations are often important in the contentious probate work I do. These are matters where people have fallen out about Wills or estates and the root cause is often that someone’s expectations have not been met.
For example, it is not entirely unusual for people to tell different family members different things about their Wills simply to keep everyone happy and avoid difficult conversations. I have known cases where people have promised the same asset to different family members.
While this might seem like the easy option at the time, it is sure to cause difficulties further down the line. Somebody is bound to be disappointed. Such situations can cause bad feeling and mistrust in families that can endure for generations. Because each person knows what they were told, it is not unnatural to assume that other family members are lying.
Another example was a matter I dealt with for a farming family. Virtually all of the family’s wealth was tied up in the farm. One of the children had stayed at home over the years and devoted himself to working on the farm whereas the other two had left home and built careers elsewhere. Although nothing had been said, the child who stayed at home had assumed that his reward would be to be left the farm in the long run. His parents saw it differently, however, and left the farm equally to the three children out of what they considered to be fairness. They simply gave the son who had stayed at home the right to buy out his siblings’ share, which he could not afford to do.
As well as causing bad feeling, probate and Will disputes can lead to court cases which can cost thousands of pounds in court and legal fees, depleting the family wealth.
The morals are:
- Do not make promises in relation to your Will which you do not intend to carry out. It might seem a good idea at the time but it will lead to hurt and disappointment later on.
- If there is anything in your Will that might come as a surprise to a family member, try to talk to them about it while you are still living. (My secretary has pointed out that it would be difficult to do so after you have died). Explain what you propose to do and why and do not let it come as a shock after you have gone.
If you are involved in a dispute about a Will or an estate, contact me for further advice. To encourage you to do so I will give the next person who instructs me on a Will or probate dispute a free glass of wine. Possibly.
Need that glass of wine?
If you would like to discuss Wills, trusts and probate with an experienced solicitor or if you believe you have grounds to contest a Will, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Newtons Solicitors for advice on your next steps.
About Mark Jones
Mark Jones is a director and senior solicitor. He primarily works out of our Ripon and Harrogate offices, and he has over 30 years of experience in private client law. He is also one of the longest-serving members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and a member of the Private Client Section of the Law Society, and his specialism is in contentious probate claims.