Excluding a family member from your will is your right. At least, that’s what you’d think – the point of a will being that you get to decide who benefits from your estate after you die.
Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. But let’s start with how you could exclude someone – say a family member you’ve fallen out with.
Of course, the starting point is that you simply don’t name them in your will. But for close relatives, you need to anticipate how they’ll feel and how they’ll react from being excluded.
So best practice is to include another document with the will, called a letter of wishes, in which you explain why you’ve excluded a certain person or persons.
The problem is that even a letter of wishes still won’t stop someone taking legal action after your death.
Spouses, former spouses, children and dependents can do just that if they don’t feel the financial provision for them is reasonable. The law governing this area is laid out in the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
One example of this happening came about in 2004 after the death of Melita Jackson. She was estranged from her daughter, Heather Ilott, and left her nothing in her will.
Jackson had left her estate, worth just under £500,000, to three animal charities.
Mrs Ilott went to court and the action was successful. She was initially awarded £50,000 from her late mother’s estate. On appeal, however, she was awarded a much larger amount.
The charities declared themselves surprised and disappointed with this state of affairs. They pointed out that large sums were donated each year from legacies, which charities rely on to do good work.
The final legal ruling on the case came in March 2017 from the Supreme Court. This time the charities won and the original, lower, award was restored.
Legal experts interpret the verdict as saying that reasonable provision means paying maintenance money from the estate and no more. What’s more, it reinforces the idea that, reasonable provision aside, we’re free to choose who benefits from our estate.
I\’m still not sure
If you’re still concerned about excluding someone from your will, you could instead leave them a very modest amount of money.
Explains Maplebrook Wills’ Mike Pugh: “As will writers, we to try to ensure that your wishes are adhered to. You could leave them a nominal amount – a gift of £100, for example, and explain in the letter of wishes why you\’ve left them such a small benefit.”
If you want to exclude a child but still ensure your grandchildren are cared for, you could gift them your estate in a trust.
Says Pugh: “The child you wish to exclude would neither be a beneficiary nor a trustee of the trust. You could set the conditions of the trust such that your grandchildren benefit at the age you stipulate – at the age of 18, or 21 or 25, for example.”
For more information, contact Maplebrook Wills on.