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One powerful reason why you should always seek legal advice before making your will is to ensure you meet your responsibilities to those who depend on you financially. In one case on point, the High Court effectively rewrote the will of a wealthy landowner who cut his long-term partner out of his £1.5 million estate.
The couple had been living together as man and wife for over 40 years. When he was in hospital shortly before his death, aged 94, he had told her not to worry as she would be well looked after. However, he left her nothing in his final will – he had made about ten others previously – and instead bequeathed his entire estate to two of his tenants who had been kind to him during his final years.
In a letter of wishes attached to the will, he expressed a determination that neither his partner nor her four children should inherit any part of his fortune. He stated, incorrectly, that she had her own resources and was financially comfortable. In fact, she had been left with modest savings of about £2,500 and was otherwise entirely dependent on benefits. In those circumstances, her lawyers launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, seeking reasonable provision from his estate.
In upholding her claim, the Court noted the duration of the relationship and the care that the woman had given to her partner as his health declined. She had worked without pay on his farm and in his business, and assisted in caring for his mother before she died. In those circumstances, the terms of his will failed to match up to the moral and legal responsibilities that he owed her as a dependant.
The Court ordered that a cottage worth £225,000 should be transferred to the woman from the estate. She was also awarded almost £190,000 in cash to cover the costs of refurbishing the cottage and other expenses. The Court noted that the tenants, as the man's chosen beneficiaries, would still inherit the lion's share of his estate.