18.02.2016 - Leaving it all to the pet cat?

Shakespeare’s will famously reflected his wishes and disdain for his wife “I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture”. The making of a will means you decide what happens to your money, property and possessions after your death. Despite this position, the UK courts have overturned a number of wills where people tried to disinherit their families. One such example is where a mother, Melita Jackson, had chosen to leave her estate to animal charities rather than her daughter.

Does this mean you cannot leave it all to the family pet cat? Can you disinherit your children? The brief answer is “Yes, but....”. There is a presumption of testamentary freedom under English law in making your will, that is to say, you can leave your assets to whomever you please. Legislation, however, does exist to protect those who it is felt deserve special protection. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 defines certain categories of people who may make an application to the court (within a strict timescale) for financial provision. These are people include spouses, co-habitees, children or someone who was being maintained by the deceased immediately before death. The claimant must prove that reasonable provision has not been made in the will.

Generally speaking, able bodied adult children who are capable of maintaining themselves are not treated very favourably by the courts. In the case of Melita Jackson’s contested will, Judge Mary Arden concluded Melita Jackson should have given a reasonable provision to her daughter, Heather Ilott, who was living on benefits and has no pension. In its ruling, the court also said Jackson had no connection with the charities named in the will.

If you are considering disinheriting someone, then you should think about leaving a written statement giving your reasons for omitting someone who might have expected to have been provided for in the will. For advice on drawing up a will, talk to one of our specialist team today who will guide you through the whole process.

Did you know..?

The current Inheritance Tax Threshold is £325,000