It really is staggering that so many people fail to keep their Wills updated.
A recent case in the Central London County Court is yet another example of how much money can be spent on disputes between competing family members where somebody dies without having made proper provision.
In this case a Mr Williams lived with Ms Martin for 18 years although, throughout that period, he remained married to his Wife from whom he had long been separated. The couple owned their 3 bedroom home as tenants in common. That meant that the property did not automatically pass to Ms Martin after Mr Williams died suddenly of a heart attack at 69 years of age in 2012. Instead his share formed part of his estate. Unfortunately, Mr Martin had not made a Will so upon his death all his estate (including his share in the property) passed to his estranged Wife.
Ms Martin was left with no option but to make a claim for “reasonable financial provision” from the estate under the Inheritance Act 1975.
To succeed in her claim Ms Williams had to show that she had lived with Mr Williams as his partner for at least two years, immediately preceding his death or alternatively that immediately before his death she was maintained wholly or partly by him. Luckily for her, she was able to satisfy these requirements and the Judge considered it reasonable that provision should be made for her.
At the end of the hearing the Judge ordered that Ms Williams should receive Mr Martin’s share in the property so that she would own it outright.
Mr Martin’s Widow who opposed the claim was ordered to pay £100,000 on account of costs within 42 days pending a detailed assessment of Ms Williams’ costs. The full amount of her cost liability will probably be more and she will have her own costs to pay on top.
Presumably, if Mr Martin had made a Will he would have left his share in the property to Ms Williams and she would have been spared an awful lot of stress and unhappiness as a result.
It is a common misunderstanding that cohabiting couples have automatic rights to each other’s property. Some people mistakenly believe that after a couple have lived together for more than 6 months they have the same rights as if they were married. The expression “common law marriage” does not exist in law and living with somebody does not confer any rights at all.
As so often happens in high profile legal cases it did not end when the Judge made his order. The Widow has indicated that she intends to appeal. This will result in even more costs being incurred.
It is also worth remembering that Mr Martin died suddenly. Probably (like so many people that we speak to) he always intended to get around to making a Will but never found the time. Such a Will would have cost a relatively small amount.
If you do not have an up to date Will then please make one immediately. It is not fair on your loved ones to delay any further. If you wish to discuss the matter please contact any of our offices.